Supreme Court issues notice to WhatsApp, Facebook, says ‘We’ve to protect people’s privacy’ | India News


New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday (February 15) issued notice to Facebook and WhatsApp and sought their response on a plea challenging WhatsApp`s latest privacy policy. An apex court bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde observed that people`s privacy must be protected in view of the allegation that users’ data was being shared with other companies.

The bench said, “There is a concern that circuit of messages is revealed by WhatsApp,” adding that citizens have “great apprehension about loss of their privacy” and they think that their data and chats being shared with others and it has to be looked into.

The bench told counsels appearing for Facebook and WhatsApp, “You (WhatsApp and Facebook) maybe two or three trillion companies but people value their privacy more than money. It is our duty to protect their privacy.” CJI SA Bobde said, “We are telling you what we heard and read. People think that if A sends a message to B and B to C. The circuit of messages is revealed to Facebook.”

During the hearing, senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Arvind Datar appearing for WhatsApp and Facebook respectively denied the allegations and called this “misinformation”. Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for petitioner Internet Freedom Foundation, told the Bench that there is a great amount of metadata that is shared for profit and is a privacy concern.

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“We pray that privacy standards are not lowered for Indian users by WhatsApp… They be barred from sharing data with Facebook,” Divan contended, adding that in January this year WhatsApp came up with the new privacy policy which undermines the privacy of Indian users compared to the European counterparts.

“This policy was supposed to be brought in by February 8, 2021, and Indians were asked to migrate to the new privacy policy, Divan contended, adding that this deadline has been extended to May 14 and cited differentiation privacy policy between Europeans and Indians users,” he added.

Sibal and Datar denied differential treatment between Europeans and Indians in its new privacy policy. Sibal appearing for WhatsApp argued that Europe has a special law (General Data Protection Regulations), which India doesn`t have and the company will follow the law if Parliament makes it.

Appearing for Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the companies cannot share data of users, and data must be protected. The court then issued a notice to WhatsApp and Facebook and posted the matter after four weeks.

The top court was hearing an application filed by Internet Freedom Foundation challenging WhatsApp`s latest privacy policy which was introduced in January in India. 

The petitioner sought guidelines to safeguard the personal data and privacy of over 400 million Indian WhatsApp users and also sought an interim stay on the operation of the new Privacy Policy of WhatsApp

The plea said the 2021 Policy of WhatsApp is “highly invasive and has been unilaterally forced upon Indian internet users”, urging the Court to grant an ad-interim order, restraining the sharing of any personal data of users by Whatsapp with Facebook for marketing or other purposes.

The intervention application was filed in an appeal filed by Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi in 2017, which had challenged the 2016 privacy policy of WhatsApp. The matter is being heard by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, however, sought responses from the Centre and WhatsApp within four weeks on a fresh plea alleging lower standards of privacy for Indians in comparison to European users of the messaging app. The SC said that people have grave apprehensions that they will lose their privacy, and it is our duty to protect them.

The bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde also comprised Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

(With Agency Inputs)

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