SC Questions WhatsApp, Why To Change Privacy Policy And Why To Share Data?

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On Monday, the Supreme Court has asked question to Whats App’s  privacy policy to share user data in 2016, two years after it was acquired by social media giant Facebook. Supreme court Bench of five judges, headed by Justice Dipak Misra asked  WhatsApp on the first day of hearing,”  Why did you change the privacy policy and what’s the purpose for sharing user data?” The bench of the supreme court comprises of five judges and which is led by Justice Mishra Justices AK Sikri, Amitava Roy, M Santana Gouder and  AM Khanwilkar are also the part of the team.

Expressing concern over sharing of user data Justice AK Roy,  who is one of the judges on the Bench said,”  What’s bothering us is that the earlier policy was a transaction between WhatsApp and the user and now you create a mega data base to exploit it commercially.” As the bench was informed,  the Senior Advocate, Harish Salve who was at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, representing India in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case, the SC asked Advocate K.V Vishwanathan to initiate  the one day long proceedings.

Internet Freedom Foundation as an intervenor in the case, Viswanathan said that unlike  other countries, India does not have any data protection policies and in the absence of these privacy policy, government was obliged to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens. According to the new policy, WhatsApp can share all its user data with social networking giant Facebook alleging that the decision  on privacy policy  of 160 million Indian users and  the petitioners challenged WhatsApp privacy policy because it violated users fundamental right to communicate freely.

Viswanathan told the bench,  due to the 2016 whatsapp  privacy policy, “I am under fear and my communication is hampered. Life of fear, tension, anxiety and torture is not a free life.” However, the senior advocate Siddhartha Luthra denied on behalf of WhatsApp that its pre 2016 policy did not include data sharing and asserted that the company never snooped on messages or user content. He said,”What is shared is the identification number of the device, the phone number of the user, user registration detail and last access of the service by the user.”

Luthra said that in today’s rapidly developing technological world it was important to communicate with other platforms for enhanced services and it’s our promise is to provide enhanced services by sharing limited information without impinging an individual’s rights.

The  bench said that it breached a user’s  trust, and said,”Why do you share? If You were not sharing user data in 2012, then why have you done it in 2016? You say the name is not shared but the attributes of identity are shared. What is the need to share the attributes of identity? Now users fear what you will share in future. During first hearing on this issue, the Union government had informed a constitution bench that it was wedded to an individual freedom of choice, though it was willing to debate the finer points of law pertaining to privacy policy since the same is under consideration by another Bench of the Court in the matter of Aadhar.

The government added that the  TRAI the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India was framing a policy on data protection and also was mulling over a data protection framework. Advocate Madhvi Divan, a petitioners told the bench that the regulation in place was outdated by the technology. Pointing out social media giant, Facebook, advocate KK Venugopal, told the bench that ” if a message conveyed by A to B on WhatsApp is never seen by anybody and in no time, it will be available to perusal as all whatsapp messages are end to end encrypted by company.”

The court said,Initially WhatsApp was thought to provide communication platform to user which was safe and trustworthy but as per the new policy change it  has taken away the user trust. “You may not be sharing the name but attributes of the identity are shared,” it said. The Centre supported the petitioners, saying there was a need of regulatory regime for the user data protection.

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