by Kritika, CCG 

The special leave petition against the Delhi High Court’s ruling upholding WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy came up for hearing before a bench of five judges today. This policy is contentious because it allows WhatsApp to share valuable personal information of its users, including phone numbers, contact lists and profile pictures, with its parent company Facebook. As reported earlier, today’s hearing was to determine whether a bench of five judges can hear the case and to fix a date for the hearing.

During the course of arguments, the petitioners’ counsel focused on the need for regulating platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook. It was his contention that the High Court should not have relegated the matter to a simple issue of a private contract between a user and a company. Arguing that such a proposition was overbroad, he contended that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and/or the Central Government must form comprehensive regulations to guarantee the rights of individuals (including the right to privacy) using such services. To emphasise on the need for regulation, he took the court through WhatsApp’s privacy policy, outlining the nature and extent of information collected and shared by it.

The Attorney General interjected requesting the Court to adjourn the matter for a few months. It was his submission that the Centre was in the process of formulating a data protection framework to regulate private entities collecting personal data.

For WhatsApp, it was argued that the service is popular only because of its insistence on privacy. It was submitted that no part of the content of any message was shared with any third party. The counsels for WhatsApp and Facebook also questioned the setting up of a constitution bench to hear this case as according to them, the case lacked a question of constitutional importance.

In the order passed by the Court today, this opposition to setting up a bench of five judges to hear the matter was recorded. However, Justice Mishra went on to state that this contention would be addressed at the time of the final verdict, signifying the Court’s intention to go ahead with the matter. The petitioners have been requested to file their propositions (/questions of law) by the 24th of April 2017.

The case will be taken up for hearing again on the 27th of April 2017.

Crossposted with permission from CCG at NLU Delhi. Originally published here. Emphasis in the post here has been added by us.

MediaNama’s coverage and analysis of this issue

Apr 6, 2017: Will regulate WhatsApp and other messaging services: Centre tells SC
Nov 2016: WhatsApp to stop sharing user data with Facebook in the UK
Sep 2016: Germany blocks WhatsApp from sharing with Facebook
Sep 30, 2016: Contrary to reports, WhatsApp will comply with Delhi HC order on user data sharing
Sep 26, 2016: On the Delhi HC asking Whatsapp to scrub user data (Our views on the Delhi HC judgment)
Sep 15, 2016: WhatsApp cites encryption as it opposes plea for privacy violation
Sep 01, 2016: Whatsapp backtracks on Privacy (a point of view from CCG NLU, Delhi)
Sep 01, 2016: PIL against WhatsApp asks for prohibition on user data sharing
Aug 29, 2016: Offer valid till… (an editorial viewpoint)
Aug 26, 2016: What, how, and why WhatsApp is collecting data (an analysis of its terms and conditions)

Also read: the privacy nightmare no one in India talks about