SC pulls up FB, WhatsApp over privacy: Key takeaways from proceedings

Published on Feb 16, 2021 10:27 AM IST

WhatsApp and Facebook sought to argue that the apprehension over the privacy policy was a “red herring” but the Centre urged the top court to scrutinise the 2021 policy instead of waiting for a high court to decide

The Supreme Court. (File photo)
The Supreme Court. (File photo)
ByHT Correspondent | Edited by Sameer

The Supreme Court on Monday told WhatsApp and Facebook that Indians value their privacy more than the trillions of dollars the social media firms were worth. Here is what we know about the court proceedings in the matter:

• “People in India have grave apprehensions about the loss of privacy. You may be a $2-3 trillion company, but people value their privacy more than that. And it is our duty to protect people’s privacy,” the court observed.

• The court cited some reports to highlight concerns people had about their privacy. “You better clarify all this. People think that when ‘A’ messages ‘B’ and ‘B’ messages ‘C’, the whole thing is read by the Facebook,” the bench told the lawyers for the tech firms, issuing notices to them.

• In January, WhatsApp renewed its terms of service and privacy policy, which were to initially come into effect on February 8, but have since been deferred to May 15.

• The company said it will share details about users’ conversations with business accounts, and that accepting these terms were mandatory.

Also Read | SC tells WhatsApp to give undertaking on data privacy

• Anyone not agreeing to the terms will need to delete their accounts, the company said at the time, triggering a seeming shift by many to rivals such as Telegram and Signal.

• WhatsApp and Facebook sought to argue that the apprehension over the privacy policy was a “red herring”.

• The Union government, represented by solicitor general Tushar Mehta, urged the top court to scrutinise the 2021 policy instead of waiting for a high court to decide.

• “Right to privacy is a fundamental right and they (WhatsApp and Facebook) must protect Indians’ rights. They cannot share data of Indians. They cannot compromise with the privacy right of Indians,” Mehta submitted.

• Appearing for petitioner Karmanya Singh Sareen, senior lawyer Shyam Divan questioned WhatsApp over lowering the privacy standards.

• He pointed out that since WhatsApp had deferred its new policy till May 15, the Supreme Court should decide its validity before that.

• Senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Arvind Datar, Mukul Rohatgi, and Sidharth Luthra, who appeared for WhatsApp and Facebook, sought to emphasise that the social media entities were functioning within the bounds of the Indian laws.

• During a hearing on Friday, the apex court shot down submissions by WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook that the apex court did not require to examine the 2021 privacy policy since the Delhi High Court was hearing a separate bunch of challenges to the same policy.

• The bench took note that a previous petition raising similar issues regarding the 2016 privacy policy of WhatsApp was pending before a Constitution bench, and commented that it was not appropriate for a high court to deal with the issues that were already pending before the Supreme Court.

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