WhatsApp, through its counsel, had written to the court suggesting that justice Singh should not hear the matter because she appeared as a senior counsel against WhatsApp in a matter in the Supreme Court in 2016.(MINT_PRINT)
WhatsApp, through its counsel, had written to the court suggesting that justice Singh should not hear the matter because she appeared as a senior counsel against WhatsApp in a matter in the Supreme Court in 2016.(MINT_PRINT)

Delhi HC objects to WhatsApp asking judge not to hear PIL

Justice Pratibha M Singh said the e-mail, which was later withdrawn, was completely unwarranted because she was anyway going to recuse herself from hearing the case filed by lawyer Chaitanya Rohilla, who has contended that WhatsApp’s updated policy violates the individual’s Right to Privacy.
By Richa banka, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 16, 2021 04:24 AM IST

The Delhi high court on Friday took strong objection to an e-mail sent by WhatsApp to a judge, asking asked her not to hear a plea challenging its new privacy policy.

Justice Pratibha M Singh said the e-mail, which was later withdrawn, was completely unwarranted because she was anyway going to recuse herself from hearing the case filed by lawyer Chaitanya Rohilla, who has contended that WhatsApp’s updated policy virtually scrutinises the personal profile of a user 360 degrees, thereby violating the individual’s Right to Privacy.

The petition also said that WhatsApp has put a “Damocles sword on its users” to accept its new privacy policy by February 8.

When the matter was listed on Friday, justice Singh mentioned the e-mail in open court. “The court has received an e-mail. I take strong objection to that. There was no need to send this e-mail. I was, myself not going to hear this matter,” she said.

WhatsApp, through its counsel, had written to the court suggesting that justice Singh should not hear the matter because she appeared as a senior counsel against WhatsApp in a matter in the Supreme Court in 2016. That case also pertained to WhatsApp’s privacy policy, and is still pending in the court. WhatsApp also sent an e-mail to the Registrar General of the Delhi high court, asking that the bench be changed.

On Friday, the senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for WhatsApp, acceded that they should not have sent the e-mail. Advocate Tejas Karia, the counsel who had sent the e-mail on behalf of WhatsApp, apologised to the court, and said that he would withdraw it.

The court posted the matter for Monday, when it will be heard by some other bench subject to the orders of the chief justice of the Delhi high court.

The plea, filed by Rohilla, said that WhatApp’s new norms, which users must mandatorily accept by February 8, jeopardise the national security of the country by sharing, transmitting and storing user data in some another country.

It alleged that WhatsApp was integrating people into Facebook so that Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram (another subsidiary of Facebook) all become part of one package.

Rohilla, through his counsel Manohar Lal, also contended that updated privacy policy essentially takes away the choice to not share their data with other Facebook-owned and third-party apps.

He added that WhatsApp, through the policy, is clearly trying to share its user data to the parent company and other companies which will eventually use that data to serve their vested interests.

The new privacy policy, which was rolled out by WhatsApp, owned by Facebook Inc, on January 4, includes mandatory sharing of data with the parent company. The decision to share data was first floated in 2016, post WhatsApp’s acquisition by Facebook, but until last week, users already on the platform before the acquisition had the choice of not sharing that data. That choice no longer exists. The move has faced backlash globally -- especially in WhatsApp’s biggest market India where it has 400 million users -- with people en masse defecting to other messaging applications such as Signal and Telegram.

Experts said that the new policy may damage WhatsApp’s prospects in India. “Legally, there was no choice for customers who were required to either agree to the revised terms, or were to be denied the upgrade. Though WhatsApp has managed to retain its monopoly, next action of this nature, and Indian users are likely to migrate to Signal and Telegram,” said Major Nirvikar Singh (Retd), a Supreme Court lawyer.

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