Monday 22 July 2024

News Analysed, Opinions Expressed

‘Ashanti’ over Sushant will End: But What About WhatsApp?


The fact is that no drugs have been seized from any actress. All these ‘drug’ cases are being made on the sole basis of WhatsApp chats

The NCB has succeeded in recovering old, deleted messages. How private are your WhatsApp conversations really?


On Friday, the Election Commission (EC) announced the schedule for the Bihar Assembly polls. Voting will be in three phases – on 28 October, 3 November and 7 November. Counting is on 10 November.

It’s official. The ‘ashanti’ that followed the unfortunate suicide of actor Sushant Singh Rajput – the pride of Bihar – will end on 7 November, when the last Bihari votes. Those avidly following the Manohar Kahaniyan (wonderful tales) of ‘breaking news’ each night on TV should enjoy it while it lasts.

More than 30 days after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took over the investigation of the late Mr Rajput’s suicide (or murder), the 'whodunnit' whataboutery continues on TV. But the CBI, an agency that specialises in media management, selective leaks and planting of sensational news reports, is itself silent. It is saying nothing about murder or abetment to suicide.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED), likewise, seems to have come up empty-handed. There was initial talk of misappropriation of crores and money laundering. Lately, we have heard nothing.

But the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), the central agency responsible for coordination with state governments and curbing international drug trafficking – which earlier worked quietly behind the scenes to seize large drug consignments and break international peddling rings – is in the news every night. It says it is busting a “Bollywood drug nexus”.

Is investigating film actresses who chatted on WhatsApp about drugs – maybe even smoked a joint or two of ganja or charas – three years ago, busting a “nexus”? Rhea Chakraborty is in jail for being part of a “drug syndicate” because she allegedly bought some charas for her boyfriend but didn’t smoke it herself!

Or does it have something to do with one Rajesh Asthana, IPS? He was earlier Jt Commissioner of Police in Ahmedabad and Commissioner of Police in Surat and Vadodara, and is known to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. He was Special Director of the CBI during its newsmaking days. Now, he heads the NCB.  

In fact, the first Director General of the NCB B V Kumar has said about this controversy: “NCB should have gone after the peddlers… not come down on the consumers.” He added that the NCB had “lost its objective”.

The fact is that no drugs have been seized from any actress. All these cases are being made on the basis of WhatsApp chats. Stranger still, actresses like Kangana Ranaut – who openly claimed to have been a drug addict – are not being questioned about drug links.

This is not about drugs. It’s about using the memory of the late Sushant Singh Rajput for the Bihar elections, where the ruling NDA alliance is facing anti-incumbency. She who supports the government is not a target. Only she who opposes the government is. 

So watch out, dear reader. If the government can go after Deepika Padukone on the basis of a 2017 WhatsApp chat in which she asked for a tiny bit of charas that she may or may not have smoked (the real reason: she supported JNU students by joining their protest on 7 January 2020), they can go after you and me as well.

Obviously, WhatsApp’s assurance of end-to-end encryption in its chats is a little like PM Narendra Modi’s promise of putting Rs15 lakh in each citizen’s bank account. The NCB has succeeded in recovering old, deleted messages. How private are your WhatsApp conversations really?

While WhatsApp gives you the option to delete a message forever, the messages are, in fact, not deleted from everywhere. WhatsApp keeps an unencrypted log of your conversations locally on your mobile that works as a ‘forensic trace’ to log data. It is a way to see messages that have been deleted.

So never click on any unknown link that you are not sure about. Even if it is from a contact, find out why (s)he has sent the link. This prevents spyware being downloaded to your mobile.

Turn on security notifications on your mobile in the Security tab under ‘Account’ in Settings. This allows you to verify that your conversation with your contact is encrypted. You will also be notified if your contact’s number or mobile changes.

When setting up your WhatsApp account, turn on two-factor authentication, which asks for an extra verification code. Add biometric authentication to restrict direct access to your messages by third parties. In Privacy settings, make your profile a private account. Don’t back up messages and media to the cloud; they are no longer encrypted there.

Or you could try switching to another messaging app like Telegram, which says it has even higher levels of encryption and security.

The most effective way to avoid trouble, of course, is to be more careful about what you write. Avoid sharing information that could later come back to hurt you.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.


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