The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it will examine whether it should hear a plea against WhatsApp's data sharing policy now or wait until the government brings a data protection bill in the budget session of parliament. The Centre has already told the apex court that a bill in this regard will be introduced, subject to administrative approvals, in the second half of the parliament session.
Two students—Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi— have filed a petition challenging the contract entered into between WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook to provide access to calls, photographs, texts, videos and documents shared by users. The petitioners argue that the contract is a violation of their privacy and free speech.
A top court bench headed by Justice K.M. Joseph on Monday observed there is no harm in waiting for the bill to be introduced in parliament. “Heavens are not going to fall in the meanwhile,” it said.
“What we are trying to suggest is, if a legislative framework is available and if the government is contemplating, should we do this exercise now. Will it not be a mere academic exercise,” the bench which also comprises justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy, and C.T. Ravikumar said.
While senior senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing WhatsApp, suggested that the top court wait for the bill to be tabled, advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that the introduction of a bill itself should not defer the taking up of this case.
"We seek a declaration to that effect. We want an opt-out option and there should be a meaningful option. That option is not available to Indian users. There is a public interest element to this," Divan said.
WhatsApp then told the Delhi High Court that it would not enforce its updated privacy policies until the data protection bill came into force. The messaging app, however, argues that the new data sharing policy is necessary to implement the e-commerce features and to make the business accounts function better.