The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday referred to a Constitution Bench the question of whether data sharing between online messaging service WhatsApp and social networking site Facebook violated privacy of its users.
A bench of Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud referred the matter to the Constitution Bench after it was said that the relationship between WhatsApp and its user(s) was that of a contract between two parties with the user agreeing to the terms and conditions.
The court fixed April 18 for the hearing by the larger bench.
Petitioners Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi contended that under a new policy, WhatsApp could access, read, share and use the contents for commercial purposes and this impinged on the privacy of its users.
The petitioners said it is the government’s duty to protect the people’s rights under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution and to safeguard their privacy.
They said private communication between two persons using the online messaging service had to be protected for privacy.
During an earlier hearing, the court was told that the government was duty-bound to regulate the online messaging site and the social networking site since interception of phone calls without prior government permission attracts prosecution.
In the course of the hearing of the matter on January 16, the court told the petitioners: “It is a private person extending a private service. You take it or leave it — that is your right.”
“We are… of the view that it is always open to the existing users of WhatsApp, who do not want their information to be shared with Facebook, to opt for deletion of their account.”
The High Court also asked the Centre to consider if instant messaging app and social networking site could be brought under the statutory regulatory framework.