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Supreme Court flags privacy issues regarding WhatsApp, FB

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday sought the central government's response on a plea seeking to put in place regulation to protect the privacy of the messages of WhatsApp and Facebook users.

The court also issued notices to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), online messaging service WhatsApp and the social networking site Facebook, according to a report filed by news agency IANS.

Petitioners Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Singhal contended that under the new policy of WhatsApp, the online messaging service could access, read, share and use the contents for commercial purposes. A bench of Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said, "It is a private person extending a private service. You take it or leave it -- that is your right."

Appearing for the petitioners, senior counsel Harish Salve told the court that it was the duty of the government to protect people's rights under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution and safeguard their privacy.
As he urged the court to intervene in the matter as new policy of WhatsApp affected the privacy of the people using the site, the bench observed whenever the messaging service will change their conditions, they will give a notice to its users, IANS reported.

Telling the court that private communication between two persons had to be protected, Salve said that TRAI was not doing anything about it and government was under duty to regulate the online messaging site and the social networking site. The court was told that TRAI has inserted a condition, which says that if you intercept a call without government permission, you would be prosecuted.

Sareen and Singhal have challenged Delhi High Court's September 23, 2016 order by which it had allowed WhatsApp to roll out its new privacy policy but said it cannot share data of its users collected up to September 25, 2016 with Facebook or any other related company.

The High Court had further directed that WhatsApp would completely delete all data of users who chooses to opt out of the instant messaging app after the coming into force of its new privacy policy. While allowing WhatsApp to roll out its new privacy policy, it had said: "We have taken note of the fact that under the privacy policy of WhatsApp, the users are given an option to delete their WhatsApp account at any time, in which event, the information of the users would be deleted from the servers of WhatsApp. We are, therefore, of the view that it is always open to the existing users of WhatsApp, who do not want their information to be shared with Facebook, to opt for deletion of their account."

The High Court had also asked the Centre to consider if instant messaging app WhatsApp and social networking site could be brought under the statutory regulatory framework.

TRAI is undertaking a consultation process, at the moment, to decide on Net Neutrality, which will at one point of time will also take into account services like WhatsApp, FB Messenger and other similar services offered by Indian companies too.

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