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SC tells WhatsApp to give details of user data it shared with third parties

LiveMint logoLiveMint 06-09-2017 Priyanka Mittal

New Delhi: Facebook-owned WhatsApp told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that it did not share any user data with third parties except the user’s telephone number, device details, device registration number and ‘last seen’ (on WhatsApp) details.

Tushar Mehta, additional solicitor general appearing for the Centre, submitted that the Centre was in the process of devising a data protection law which would comprehensively address all issues.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra did not pass an order but directed WhatsApp to file an affidavit giving details of what user data it shared with third parties and other entities within four weeks.

Counsel for petitioners, K.V. Vishwanathan and Madhavi Divan highlighted the problems of sharing of metadata and sought the messaging company to be restrained from sharing any details until the data protection law was in place.

Former chief justice J.S. Khehar had said in April that a five-judge bench would first decide if the case is related to privacy and determine if WhatsApp’s user data sharing policy is violative of the right to privacy.

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With a nine-judge Constitution bench holding privacy as a fundamental right on 24 August, the debate over data sharing gained momentum as the ruling discussed and recognized informational privacy as an aspect of the right to privacy. It also highlighted the dangers of sharing information using the various technological means at people’s disposal.

Recognizing the importance of informational privacy under the landmark judgement of 24 August, former chief justice J.S. Khehar and justices D.Y. Chandrachud, R.K. Agrawal, S. Abdul Nazeer said, “Informational privacy is a facet of the right to privacy. The dangers to privacy in an age of information can originate not only from the state but from non-state actors as well.”

The court was hearing an appeal against a September 2016 ruling of the Delhi high court allowing Facebook-owned WhatsApp to enforce its new privacy policy.

Petitioner Karmanya Singh Sareen, a student, had sought the intervention of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to regulate use of data that belongs to Indians.

The high court ruling delivered by Delhi high court chief justice G. Rohini had asked Trai to determine if an instant messaging service such as WhatsApp could be brought under the existing statutory framework.

On 25 August 2016, WhatsApp sent a notification to its users, asking them to accept recent changes in its terms and conditions. Many users agreed without checking the changes, and with that, unintentionally allowed WhatsApp to pass information about them to its parent Facebook for commercial use.

WhatApp’s new privacy policy allows it to collect and share information about its users with Facebook and all its group companies for the purpose of commercial advertising and marketing on its platform.

The central government is currently in the process of drafting a data protection legislation and has appointed an expert group headed by former Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna for it.

The matter will be heard next on 28 November.

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