New Delhi, India-based attorney Gurmeet Singh threatened to file a lawsuit against WhatsApp earlier this week over the app's use of the middle finger emoji. In a legal notice sent to the Facebook-owned instant messaging service on Wednesday, the lawyer gave WhatsApp 15 days to comply with his request or prepare for either civil or criminal litigation. Citing Sections 354 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code, Mr. Singh argued WhatsApp's use of the middle finger emoji is a direct violation of the country's legislation against "lewd, offensive, [and] obscene" gestures made in both public and private environments. Both sections of the code define protections for women in the South Asian country, with Section 354 dealing with physical and psychological harassment, whereas Section 509 describes illegal offenses meant to insult a woman's "modesty" with words, gestures, and other acts.
None of the two quoted sections specifically forbid the middle finger gesture, though Mr. Singh's notice sent to WhatsApp argues the emoji is still illegal in the spirit of the law. The code itself was originally enacted in 1860 and went through major changes over the next two centuries, with the last one being made in 2013. While it regulates certain Internet activities, it doesn't do so in the context of the sections mentioned by Mr. Singh's notice. The Indian lawyer also claims WhatsApp's support for the middle finger emoji is illegal in Ireland, citing Section 6 of the country's Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act of 1994. Even though Irish laws have no bearing on any threat of legal action in India, much like it's the case with the quoted parts of the Indian Penal Code, the section Mr. Singh used as backing for his claims only describe general "insulting" behavior exhibited in any environment with an intent to "provoke a breach of the [sic] peace" or cause one anyway due to "reckless" behavior.
Mr. Singh's move likely won't amount to anything due to the highly subjective nature of what an "obscene" gesture entails in regards to Internet-enabled instant messaging but while WhatsApp has a strong defense against a theoretical lawsuit, it remains to be seen whether the matter will actually end up in a New Delhi courtroom. The Menlo Park, California-based company has yet to comment on the matter in any capacity and is currently facing much more threatening legal issues in Europe due to its data sharing practices.