Case Filed By

Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi

Facts-

The case is filed in the background of the WhatsApp privacy policy change, and points out how the app will be collecting information of users, which will include phone numbers, names, user connections, usage and log data, transactions, status, device and connection information, and sharing this with Facebook, which is the parent company. The apex court on January 16 had sought responses from Centre and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on a plea that privacy of over 157 million Indians has been infringed by social networking sites — WhatsApp and Facebook — for alleged commercial use of personal communication. The Delhi High Court had earlier restrained WhatsApp, an instant messaging application, from sharing with Facebook the user information existing up to September 25, 2016, when its new privacy policy came into effect. The High Court, in its verdict in September last year had directed WhatsApp to delete the information/data of persons who opted out of the service before September 25, 2016, and not to share it with social networking site Facebook or its group companies. The High court ad also directed the Centre and TRAI to examine the feasibility of bringing the functioning of internet messaging applications like WhatsApp under the statutory regulatory framework. WhatsApp had earlier informed the high court that when a user account was deleted, the information of that person was no longer retained on its servers. Currently, the case is being heard by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court.

Arguments

  • The petition is looking at the issue of online privacy and asks for the state to step in. India currently has no specific law dealing with user data privacy. It points out that in India with the internet gaining so many users, more and more people are coming online and using these applications.
  • The petition states, “It is also the responsibility of the State to guarantee and ensure the protection of the personal and private data and information of these millions of citizens, when they use such modes of communications to engage in conversations and exchange private and confidential data and information.
  • WhatsApp, which is end-to-end encrypted by default, says no one can read messages being shared by users. Interestingly, according to an Economic Times report, Facebook lawyer KK Venugopal also told the court, “Those who find the new privacy policy irksome or violative of their fundamental rights, can quit,” adding that users have full freedom to give up WhatsApp and Facebook. WhatsApp’s lawyers argue the privacy policy change is in compliance with the IT Act.

Current Position

The case will next be heard on 15th of May 2017. The Court, however, said that it will look into this preliminary objection at the time of delivery of the final verdict.

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