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SC asks Govt to reply to plea on privacy in social media sites

 MPost |  2017-01-17 23:47:29.0  |  New Delhi

SC asks Govt to reply to plea on privacy in social media sites

The Supreme Court on Monday sought responses from the Centre and telecom regulator TRAI on a plea that privacy of over 157 million Indians have been infringed by social networking sites - WhatsApp and Facebook - for alleged commercial use of personal communication.

A bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud also sought responses from WhatsApp and Facebook within two weeks on an appeal filed against the Delhi High Court verdict.

The Delhi High Court had restrained WhatsApp, an instant messaging software, from sharing with Facebook user information existing upto September 25 last year when its new privacy policy came into effect.

The appeal filed before the apex court by Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi assailed the high court verdict on the ground that no relief was granted for data shared by users post September 25, 2016 and it amounted to infringement of fundamental rights under Article 19 (Freedom of Speech and Expression) and 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution.

The bench also sought the assistance of Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi in the matter when senior advocate Harish Salve, representing Sareen and Sethi, said that right to privacy was part of right to life and the matter was sensitive in nature which needed the assistance of the top law officer.

At the outset, the bench was reluctant to entertain the plea saying, “the services offered were free and no one is forced to join it”. “You don’t pay for it. If you are not satisfied or you don’t want to share your data, then don’t avail them,” the bench said.

Salve said that TRAI and other authorities are duty-bound to protect the right to privacy of the citizens and private social networking sites cannot be allowed to compromise the personal details and communications of the users as they are providing “a public utility service”. “Once it is categorised as public utility service, the government must protect the personal data placed in these domains,” he said while seeking formulation of privacy policy to deal with such communications on such sites.

He said that Facebook and WhatsApp must be treated on par with telecom service providers who face licence termination if they illegally intercept a call. 

The plea said “it is also the responsibility of the state to guarantee and ensure the protection of the personal and private data and information of these millions of citizens, when they use such modes of communications to engage in conversations and exchange private and confidential data and information”. 

The Delhi High Court, in its verdict in September last year, had directed WhatsApp to delete the information and data of persons who opt out of the service before September 25, 2016 and not to share it with social networking site Facebook or its group companies.

The high court verdict had come on the plea by Sareen and Sethi, who had challenged WhatsApp’s new privacy policy.

The high court had also directed the Centre and TRAI to examine the feasibility of bringing the functioning of internet messaging applications like WhatsApp under statutory regulatory framework.

Disposing of their plea, the high court had said users cannot contend that the company shall be compelled to continue with the same terms of service as was there at the time of launching of the platform. Under the earlier privacy policy, there was a complete protection of user privacy.

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