WhatsApp Privacy: India’s apex court issues notices to Facebook & others

Ramarko Sengupta January 16, 2017 2 min

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the government, India’s telecom regulator and Facebook to respond to a petition that alleged violation of privacy on platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook.

However, Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud told the petitioner: “It is a private person extending private service. You take it or leave it — that is your right.”

The petitioner contended that under the new policy of WhatsApp, the online messaging service could access, read, share and use the contents for commercial purposes.

Senior counsel Harish Salve, representing the petitioner, told the court that it was the duty of the government to protect “my right under articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution and safeguard my privacy”.

The petition in question has been filed citing Section 21 of the Indian Constitution which deals with protection of life and personal liberty. “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law,” it states.

The court has sought a response within two weeks. A Facebook spokesperson said that the company does not have a comment on the issue at the moment. Facebook owns WhatsApp and acquired the free instant messaging platform in 2014.

Interestingly, there is no law in India that protects the personal information of individuals. While certain provisions of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act), and the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information Rules), 2011, (IT Rules) exist, these merely scratch the surface as they apply only to information on computer resources (data from servers, smartphones and all other electronic devices), according to Bengaluru-based law firm Trilegal.

The Justice Shah Committee report, which was published in August 2012, studied several foreign jurisdictions and their privacy laws and stated that India needs a substantive privacy law — one which defines what privacy is and what its contours are. It also recommended the establishment of an independent authority for these matters.

The Delhi High Court last year had ordered WhatsApp not to share users’ data collected under its old privacy policy over the years up to September 25, 2016 (that’s when Facebook took over the company), with Facebook or any of its group companies. Facebook had said it would comply with the order.

(With inputs from agencies)


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