Supreme Court issues notice to WhatsApp, Centre on data privacy
Analysts said India lacked data protection laws.
The article by MJ Antony, Ayan Pramanik and Apurva Venkat was published in the Business Standard on January 17, 2017. Sunil Abraham was quoted.
The Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to the Centre and WhatsApp over an appeal alleging the instant messaging service did not ensure the privacy of its users and seeking regulations to protect personal information.
Chief Justice J S Khehar granted urgent hearing when Harish Salve, counsel for the petitioner, submitted that the service provided free by the platform to 155 million subscribers violated constitutional provisions protecting privacy.
The Supreme Court heard the petition after the Delhi High Court in September directed WhatsApp not to share its users’ data with its parent Facebook and asked it to provide users with the option to opt out. The court was hearing a public interest litigation over a change in WhatsApp’s user policies that explicitly allowed Facebook to access to WhatsApp users’ data.
A Facebook spokesperson said the company could not comment immediately.
Analysts said India lacked data protection laws that prohibit global Internet firms from harvesting user data for their business. “We used to think that we had some privacy jurisprudence in the country. If you asked a lawyer 1.5 years ago, he would say privacy in India was a constitutionally guaranteed right,” said Sunil Abraham, director of the Centre for Internet Society. “It is not explicitly referenced into the law.”
Saroj Kumar Jha, partner, SRGR Law Offices, said, “Along with the lack of policies and laws, there are very few judgments on privacy issues based on constitutional rights. Thus, it makes it very difficult to judge a case.”
Salve argued that till the government enacted legislation to protect user data, the court should provide protection. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India should introduce a clause in telecom licences that if calls were intercepted the licence would be cancelled, he said.
The court sought the assistance of Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi to sort out the issues.
Rohatgi, while arguing an earlier case related to alleged violation of privacy, had taken the stand that the Constitution did not protect the right to privacy. According to him, neither the fundamental rights nor Supreme Court judgments recognises a citizen’s right to privacy. The bench hearing that case referred the question to a constitution bench last year.