Restrain WhatsApp from implementing new privacy policy, Centre urges HC

IT ministry makes plea in its affidavit filed in response to a PIL challenging the new policy and seeking a stay on it

WhatsApp

The Modi government on Friday urged the Delhi High Court to restrain Facebook-owned messaging and VoiP application WhatsApp from implementing its controversial new privacy policy.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology  made the plea in its affidavit filed in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the new policy, which will be implemented from May 15, seeking a stay on it.

The PIL has been filed by Seema Singh, Meghan and Vikram Singh, who have contended that the policy, which was earlier planned for February 8 but was delayed following strong public outrage, indicates the “fissures” in Indian data protection and privacy laws.

Also read: Why WhatsApp’s new privacy policy should worry you

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Under the new terms, WhatsApp users can either accept them or exit the app, but they cannot opt not to share their data with other Facebook-owned or third-party apps.

On Friday a bench comprising Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh listed the matter for further hearing on April 20.

In its affidavit the government said: “It is humbly prayed that in view of the above submissions, the Respondent No. 2 (WhatsApp) may be restrained from implementing its new privacy policy and terms of service dated January 4, 2021 from February 8, 2021 or any subsequent date pending adjudication by this court.”

It said the IT Rules impose certain obligations on a company in relation to the security of the data collected by it in the course of its business. “Notably, the Rules require a body corporate who collects, stores or otherwise deals with data to issue a privacy policy providing for certain safeguards, in addition to imposing various other obligations. The impugned privacy policy violates the 2011 Rules,” it said.

The affidavit added that the Supreme Court had placed a responsibility on the Centre to introduce a regime on data protection and privacy.

“The Union has discharged this obligation by introducing the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 in the Lok Sabha. Upon enactment, this law will provide a robust regime on data protection which will limit the ability of entities such as Respondent No. 2 issuing privacy policies which do not align with appropriate standards of security and data protection.”

Also watch: How does Signal beat WhatsApp

The HC had on February 3 issued notice to the Centre and WhatsApp and sought their replies on the petition.

Another bench of the HC is already hearing an earlier PIL, filed in January, challenging the new policy on the ground that it violates users’ right to privacy under the Constitution.

The petitioners have sought directions to the ministry and WhatsApp to ensure that people using the app are given the option to opt out of sharing their personal data with Facebook and other companies.

They have also sought a direction to the ministry to frame guidelines safeguarding the privacy of the citizens from all apps and organisations operating in India that collect user data.

Incidentally, European users have the option to opt out of the policy. They would not be denied access to WhatsApp if they choose to do so.

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