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Home / India News / WhatsApp privacy: Will bring regulations to protect users’ data, govt tells SC

WhatsApp privacy: Will bring regulations to protect users’ data, govt tells SC

The SC bench also observed that such platforms cannot impose conditions which violate rights of citizens as choice of the users cannot be “curtailed”.

india Updated: Jul 21, 2017 22:13 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
WhatsApp now offers free voice calling between its users worldwide. Photo: AFP
WhatsApp now offers free voice calling between its users worldwide. Photo: AFP(AFP File Photo)

Social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook cannot share subscriber data because these are too intimate, the government said in the Supreme Court on Friday.

The government declared its stand before a bench of five judges, which is hearing a petition challenging WhatsApp’s policy to share its user data with Facebook, the US-based social network that bought the popular instant messaging application in 2014.

According to petitioners Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, both law students, the policy breached the privacy of 160 million users in India.

In response, additional solicitor general P Narasimha said data of users were “integral” to the right to life and personal liberty that the Constitution guarantees.

“My personal data are intimate to me. If there is any contractual obligation between the individual and the service provider impinging on an individual’s right, the state will have to intervene and regulate sharing of such data as these are an integral part an individual’s personality,” he said.

The law officer assured the court that regulations would be ready soon to prevent private social media operators from sharing personal data of subscribers without their consent.

The court fixed September 6 for the next hearing, after noting that a nine-judge bench is in the process of determining whether privacy is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution.

The government’s stand on social media contradicts it position in the privacy and Aadhaar cases. It said right to privacy is not constitutionally inherent.

According to petitions challenging the Aadhaar law, collection of biometric details to issue the 12-digit unique identification number invades people’s privacy.

The WhatsApp counsel, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, argued that the petition was not maintainable because it was filed by just two people. Besides, he said his client provides free telephony, messaging and data services.

His argument did not convince the bench. Justice Dipak Misra, who headed the bench, said: “When you are facilitating for X,Y or Z, you cannot impose arbitrary conditions. Data protection is a requirement, the nitty-gritty can’t be worked out by the court. Government can do this.”

Sibal also denied WhatsApp shared data with a third party and only Facebook can access the information. He said other platforms such as Google, Yahoo and Uber share subscriber data.

“But nobody criticises them,” said senior advocate Siddhartha Luthra, appearing for Facebook.

In response, Justice Misra remarked: “Uber is a taxi operator. That really can’t be compared or equated with a service provider of the present nature (WhatsApp).”

“You (Whatsapp) can’t impose conditions which are against my rights. You can’t control my choice.”

Representing the petitioners, senior advocate Harish Salve said data sharing is “gross transgression of a citizen’s right to privacy”.

“Merely because you (WhatsApp) are a service provider, you cannot say that I will open your letter and read it,” he said.