scorecardThe Indian government wants to build its own WhatsApp for official communication
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The Indian government wants to build its own WhatsApp for official communication

The Indian government wants to build its own WhatsApp for official communication
Tech2 min read

  • The Indian government is planning to build its own ‘Sarkari’ version of the social messaging app, WhatsApp and the email service, Gmail.
  • Amid geopolitical developments, like the blacklisting of Huawei and the proposed data localisation in India’s Personal Data Protection BIll, the Indian government feels that it must take steps to protect itself.
  • The French government also launched its own in-house version of WhatsApp earlier this year called Tchap.
The blacklisting of Huawei by the US administration has the Indian government thinking that third party apps shouldn’t be used for official communication.

A senior official told the Economic Times, “Tomorrow, if the US finds us unreliable for some reason, all they need to do is ask their companies to slow down networks in India and everything here will come to a standstill. We are vulnerable and we must take steps to cover that.”

The government wants to insulate itself from any geopolitical developments that could leave it vulnerable to global powers in the future.

An in-house homegrown communication network would mean that the Indian government would have complete control instead of depending on Facebook when using WhatsApp or Google for Gmail.

‘Sarkari’ WhatsApp

The basic idea to have a system in place that can replace WhatsApp and Gmail. All government communication would occur over this system and all the data will be stored locally.

The aim is not to have an alternate system but to bring all official government business onto a secure network. Current employees and government officials will reportedly be discouraged from using WhatsApp and Gmail for any kind of work-related discussions.

India’s proposed data localisation clause in the Personal Data Protection Bill hasn’t gone down well with the US government. It has ‘red flagged’ the proposal and its guidelines, according to a government official who spoke to ET. “American companies are resisting our efforts of data localisation. These, coupled with the recent ban on Huawei, means the Americans can cripple us anytime they decide to,” he said.

End-to-end encryption still vulnerable

One could argue that end-to-end encryption of WhatsApp — and other messenger apps like Telegram or even Facebook Messenger — secure the information that’s exchanged on the platforms.

But numerous examples already show how even these ‘secure’ networks can be hacked. Just earlier this year, it was found that WhatsApp had become the victim of a data breach by an Israeli cyber surveillance company — the NSO group.

Even the UK's intelligence agency, GCHQ, wanted WhatsApp to install a back door so that they could spy on messages being shared on the app. The proposal was eventually shunned by global tech giants as a ‘serious threat to cyber security’ illustrating how end-to-end encryption might not be enough for government communication, which often includes sensitive information.

Earlier this year, the French government embarked on a similar mission to create their own in-house version of WhatsApp — Tchap. All the communication — formal and informal — between French government agencies, employees and authorised non-government players now goes through Tchap’s internal servers.

See also:
Indian government has found a way to trace WhatsApp messages without breaking encryption

Here’s what’s up with Kimbho, the Indian messaging app that wants to take on WhatsApp

Here's what WhatsApp India head will take on as it sets out to establish its first full country team