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Supreme Court seeks Centre, TRAI reply over WhatsApp privacy policy

WhatsApp’s privacy policy has come under the scanner of the Supreme Court, which sought on Monday a response from the Centre, TRAI, Facebook Inc and its Indian subsidiary on a plea challenging the messaging service provider’s decision to share 160 million Indian users’ data with Facebook.

Initially reluctant to issue a notice, a bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar asked attorney general Mukul Rohatgi to assist the court.

“If you do not want it (services), walk out of it. You cannot say that you want it and then also ask for privacy,” the bench told senior counsel Harish Salve, who on behalf of the petitioners — two students — contended that Facebook and WhatsApp must be treated on par with telecom service providers.

“Their (telecom service providers) licence can be terminated if they snoop on users’ personal data,” Salve told the bench. However, the bench was of the view that WhatsApp was a private and free service that no one was forced to join.

The bench agreed to have a detailed hearing but only during the summer break in June. It also told Salve to be present to argue the case. The petition, filed by Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, challenges the Delhi high court’s 2016 decision that ordered WhatsApp to delete all data in its possession till September 25, 2016.

However, the court permitted the messaging service provider to share the data with Facebook if the users subscribed to its policy post the cut-off date. Subscribers were free to withdraw if they were not keen on sharing their data. The judgment also asked the Centre and TRAI to have a regulatory regime for message services.

The petition said the HC ruling “seriously impinged upon the privacy of users”.

WhatsApp was originally launched as an application in 2010. Millions of users signed up for the service that at the time of its launch in 2010 did not allow sharing of users’ data. However, after it was bought over by Facebook in 2014, the company announced sweeping changes in its privacy policy in August 2016.

“There is nothing more private, personal and confidential for any person than the private conversations and messages exchanged with their family, friends or other acquaintances and people in general,” the petitioners submitted.

The petition stated that besides Germany and UK, several European countries had taken proactive action restraining WhatsApp from sharing the data.

Source: HindustanTimes