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Indian Polity

A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed instant messaging platform WhatsApp and social media giant Facebook to file affidavits stating what user data they shared with “third parties.”

The Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra is hearing a petition filed by two law students alleging that a contract entered into between Facebook and WhatsApp in 2016 on data sharing was a violation of a citizen’s right to privacy. The data, according to them, included photographs, messages, pictures and other personal documents shared by users on WhatsApp.

Initially, senior advocate Kapil Sibal representing WhatsApp, submitted that the instant messaging platform does not share any personal data of its users with third parties. He said only four details, ‘telephone number, type of device, last access of the user and registration date,’ are shared.

The petitioners, represented by advocate Madhavi Divan, countered that the court should injunct WhatsApp from sharing user data with third parties. Ms. Divan submitted that European privacy watchdogs have warned WhatsApp against sharing user information with parent company, Facebook. WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook in 2014. The petitioners argued that the same restriction should be imposed in India.

The Centre, represented by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, submitted that a committee had been set up under former Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna, on July 31, 2017 to identify “key data protection issues” and suggest a draft Data Protection Bill.

‘No instance of breach’

Mr. Sibal said the material shared by users on WhatsApp was encrypted and Facebook was no “third party.” He said billions used WhatsApp and there had never been a single instance of breach.

“Petitioners are concerned with certain information you will come to know, which will reveal the pattern or behaviour of the user, like his communication of health details and reports with his doctors,” Justice A.K. Sikri, on the Bench, observed. But Mr. Sibal dismissed such fears as merely speculative.

The next hearing has been fixed for November 28.

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