The Supreme Court of India has issued a hard-worded notice to Facebook and WhatsApp saying “You (Facebook and WhatsApp) may be a $2-3 trillion company but people value their privacy more than money.” The Indian apex court on Monday gave this notice to the social media platforms in the connection with the new privacy policy that surfaced earlier this year. The plea has sought a hold on the operation of the new privacy policy of the instant messaging app owned by Facebook.

The notice to Facebook and WhatsApp came after the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had issued a noticed a notice seeking a response from Facebook and WhatsApp regarding the recent change in its privacy policy.

Indian Chief Justice S.A. Bobde in the notice said, “People have great apprehension over the loss of privacy. People think that if somebody messages to someone then…the whole thing is disclosed to Facebook.” The Supreme Court also said that despite Facebook being a trillion-dollar-plus company, Indian citizens are apprehensive about their privacy. Hence, it is the Supreme Court’s duty to intervene and protect the privacy of people.

The Argument from Supreme Court

Shyam Divan represented the Supreme Court and argued over the fact that Indian citizens are being treated “unfairly” as the new WhatsApp privacy policy is different for European users. The top court has ordered WhatsApp to stay with its new policy till the Constitution Bench makes a final ruling or the Indian government comes up with its own Data Protection Law.

Senior advocate and Member of Parliament Kapil Sibal outrightly denied the Supreme Court’s claim and assured that no private data is being shared. Sibal also pointed out that the issue remains pending before the Delhi High Court. Senior advocate Arvind Datar represented Facebook as a counsel and said how the fears of privacy invasion are not based in reality.

“EU has a different set of laws”: Kapil Sibal

On the Supreme Court’s argument that the new WhatsApp privacy policy is discriminating between Indian citizens and European citizens, Senior Advocate and Member of Parliament said that “This policy is applicable to rest of the world, except Europe. Europe has a special law and we will follow that law. Once there is a law here, we will follow that.”

However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the Supreme Court that whether there is such a law or not, the privacy of Indian citizens must be protected as it is a fundamental right. “Regardless of whether there is a law or not, the right to privacy is part of fundamental rights. They (WhatsApp) must protect the right to privacy,” said Mehta. He also said that the nation shares the apex court’s apprehension over data.

MeitY Letter to WhatsApp CEO

Earlier, MeitY had given the Facebook-owned messaging service a week to clarify the issues related to user privacy, data transfer and sharing policy. The Ministry also sought clarity in the general business practices WhatsApp has in place.

The MeitY sent a strong-worded email to Will Cathcart, WhatsApp CEO and reminded him that India houses a major chunk of WhatsApp’s userbase and remains the biggest market for the services it provides. In the email, the Ministry indicated that the newly updated privacy police raised “grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens.” MeitY also asked the instant messaging platform to once again reconsider the approach they have to their information privacy and data security.

The government also brought to notice that WhatsApp exempting Europeans from its new terms of service update while mandatorily applying the same to Indian users was “discriminatory”. The ministry also said that the new privacy policy will also violate the upcoming Personal Data Protection Bill once it would be implemented.

WhatsApp reacted to the email by saying it is ready to curb any misinformation and provide clarity about its updated policy. WhatsApp also gave a statement to India Today claiming that the personal messages of WhatsApp users will be end-to-end encrypted as always and will not be visible to Facebook or any other entity.

The Supreme Court’s notice on Monday came after WhatsApp provided a seemingly vague response to the MeitY’s notice sent earlier to the company on the issue. The company’s refusal to give clear responses to the government’s concerns has resulted in Supreme Court’s intervention.



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