Facebook will provide details of private chats to the Delhi police in sensitive cases, like those related to crimes against women and children, senior Facebook officials told cyber wing officers in a meeting last week, reports the Indian Express.

MediaNama has reached out to Facebook to more details and will update this when we hear from them.

The meeting was reportedly attended by the cyber wing department heads from various districts and specialized units of the Delhi police, Facebook’s special team (unspecified) from the US, and Facebook India trust and safety head Satya Yadav.

According to the report, the agenda for the meeting was:

  • Police personnel explained that they needed to access private messages to get clues about kidnapping for ransom cases. Facebook said that it would provide these details after considering the gravity of the case, if, for example, they were related to women and children.
  • Police members also said that Facebook was taking too much time to respond to their requests, and asked that information be provided more speedily.
  • Yadav shared his email and other unspecified personal details, and asked the police to contact him if they needed information in a time-bound manner.
  • The police officers also requested Facebook to provide the IP register, IP logs, mobile numbers, and email addresses when they needed it.

Sneha adds: It is quite unclear if Facebook is looking to address these issues through a different redressal mechanism (and even what sort of experts would this team be made of), keeping aside the one it usually reports on in its Transparency Report. While the police may need information in a more urgent manner because of either the time or general sensitivity of the issue, not only could Facebook’s compliance set precedents, but (on the other hand) lives could also be in danger due to lack of information disclosure. While efforts from both, the company, and the police departments, are appreciated, we could definitely use more transparency in how this system would work.

Lack of a local contact and system

Late last year, the Union home ministry had rapped Facebook, WhatsApp, Google and Twitter about the appointment of  grievance redressal officers for India. Both Facebook and WhatsApp did not give the ministry a deadline by when they would appoint such an officer, although WhatsApp had appointed a US-based grievance officer for India in September 2018. The same month, the Home Ministry had also asked Twitter to ensure that unlawful and objectionable content was speedily removed, and accussed Twitter of being slow in doing so.

  • Meanwhile, Facebook’s own transparency report for H1 2018 revealed that the Indian government’s requests for data has risen steeply over the same period last year, with 16,580 data requests and 23,047 user account information requests across WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Oculus and Messenger. The company complied with 53% of these requests and provided the data.
  • 2,388 URLs were blocked in 2018 under Section 69A of the IT Act, MeitY informed the Parliament in December. This is four times the 587 URLs blocked in 2015.

Platforms and liability: new rules

Facebook-owned WhatsApp is already in the thick with the Indian government over how the app has catalysed the spread of misinformation. Its payments service is stalled, it has been asked to set up an office in India, and could possibly be one of the triggers for the restrictive proposed changes to India’s Intermediary Liablity rules.

Also read: Karnataka HC refuses anticipatory bail to WhatsApp group admin for “grievous” message