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SC will hear petition to protect user data on WhatsApp, provided Harish Salve argues during vacation

SC will hear petition to protect user data on WhatsApp, provided Harish Salve argues during vacation

Murali Krishnan

The Supreme Court today issued notice in a petition seeking guidelines to regulate WhatsApp and said that it will hear it during the summer vacation.

A Bench of Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justice DY Chandrachud issued notice to the Centre and WhatsApp, asking them to respond within two weeks.

Most interestingly, the Court said that it will hear the case only during summer vacation and that Senior Advocate Harish Salve should appear and argue for the petitioner. The case is an appeal against the judgment of the Delhi High Court which was rendered on September 23 of last year.

The genesis of the petition, filed by one Karmanya Singh Sareen, lies in the change of privacy policy of Whatsapp in 2016. Pursuant to that, Whatsapp sought to share information of users with Facebook.

“In August 2016, suddenly Whatsapp announced a change in its privacy policy and users were asked to agree to the new privacy policy by which Whatsapp announced sweeping changes. In effect, the new Privacy Policy sought to share the entire ‘information’ including the users’ phone number, contacts and data with Facebook.”

The petitioner had challenged this in Delhi High Court contending violation of right to privacy.

The High Court, in its judgment had given a limited relief to the following extent:

“If the users opt for completely deleting “WhatsApp” account before 25.09.2016, the information/data/details of such users should be deleted completely from “WhatsApp” servers and the same shall not be shared with the “Facebook” or any one of its group companies.

So far as the users who opt to remain in “WhatsApp” are concerned, the existing information/data/details of such users upto 25.09.2016 shall not be shared with “Facebook” or any one of its group companies.”

This has been challenged in the Supreme Court, with the petitioner contending that the data shared after September 25 is not protected.

The petition states that the judgment of the High Court has created an artificial distinction between users who delete the Whatsapp Application before September 25 and those who continue to use it after September 25.

“This has resulted in an emergent situation wherein owing to amended privacy policy of WhatsApp, the rights of millions of citizens have stood compromised.”

The petitioner has contended that both existing and future users are entitled to right to privacy, and violation of right to privacy impinges upon right to life and freedom of speech and expression.

The petitioner has further submitted that the High Court has granted only partial relief as a result of which rights of millions of Whatsapp users have been compromised.

Salve, appearing for the petitioner, argued that the right to privacy is being questioned and that private communication between two individuals should be protected.

The Court agreed to hear the matter, but set out the condition that it will be heard during the summer vacation and that Salve will have to appear and argue. Justice Khehar said,

“We will hear it if you argue during vacation…You, not the petitioner.”

Salve agreed and the court proceeded to issue notice to the Centre and WhatsApp  and TRAI. The respondents have to file their replies within two weeks.

Image of Harish Salve taken from here.