‘Privacy More Imp Than Money’: SC Issues Notice in WhatsApp Case

Earlier, WhatsApp had given users time till 8 Feb to either accept its updated policy or be unable to use the app.

3 min read
The Supreme Court directed WhatsApp to explain its stance by filing a counter affidavit within four weeks. Image used for representation. 

Supreme Court, on Monday, 15 February, issued a notice on an application seeking to restrain WhatsApp from implementing its new privacy policy in India. The plea pointed out the ‘different’ privacy policy, which is made applicable to users in Europe, LiveLaw reported, and suggested the same be applied to India.

"The privacy of people is more important than your money," remarked Chief Justice of India SA Bobde while issuing notices to Facebook and WhatsApp on an application seeking to restrain WhatsApp from implementing its new privacy policy in India.

According to the LiveLaw report, the CJI observed that people have grave concerns about their right to privacy with respect to Whatsapp's new policy.

Following the hearing, the Constitutional Bench directed the company to explain its stance by filing a counter affidavit within four weeks, on the application that was filed by the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF).


WhatsApp head, Will Cathart had clarified last month that the recent privacy policy update ‘does not change WhatsApp's data-sharing practices with Facebook’.

Announced on 5 January, WhatsApp had initially given its 2 billion users across the world time till 8 February, to accept its updated policy or be unable to use the app. That has been postponed by three months now, to 15 May.

Following sustained pressure, in a major reversal of its notification, WhatsApp announced on 16 January, ‘No one will have their account suspended or deleted on 8 February’, for not accepting the messaging platform’s updated privacy policy and terms of service.

‘Restrain WhatsApp From Implementing Privacy Policy’

The instant application was filed in 2017 by IFF, Karmanya Singh Sareen and Anr vs Union of India and Ors, raising privacy concerns following the merger of Facebook and WhatsApp, as well as its 2016 privacy update.

In January 2017, the Supreme Court had referred the Facebook-WhatsApp privacy case to a five-judge bench.

Advocate Shyam Divan, appearing as the petitioner of IFF, submitted before the Supreme Court that Whatsapp is discriminating between its Indian and European users.

According to LivLaw, Diwan argued, "One set of privacy standards apply to Europe and a different set of standards apply to Indians...There is a huge differentiation between Europeans and Indians."

He urged the court to make sure that WhatsApp does not use ‘lower privacy standards’ for Indian users when compared to Europeans. He also urged that till the Personal Data Protection law comes into force, WhatsApp should not be allowed to share data with Facebook or any third party.

He further sought that the Ministry of Electronics & IT be directed to ask WhatsApp to not implement the new privacy policy till the privacy concerns are addressed, LiveLaw reported.

‘Privacy More Important Than Money’

Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Arvind Datar, appearing for WhatsApp, argued that no differential treatment is being meted out to Indian users. They submitted that the same policy is applicable across the world and a separate policy has been framed only for Europe, given their data privacy law—the GDPR.

According to the LiveLaw report Datar added, "Europe has a special law, the GDPR, which is applicable to about 27 countries and that is why there is a special law.”

The CJI however observed, "We are impressed with Divan's submission that while the Data Protection Bill is about to be brought into force, you (Whatsapp) are framing a policy to share data."

He said that people are very concerned about their privacy and it is a general belief that their messages can be shared with Facebook.

“You must understand Mr Datar, people have grave concerns about their privacy. You may be 2 trillion 3 trillion company. But the privacy of people is more important than your money.”
CJI SA Bobde

SC To Decide on Other Plea on WhatsApp Before Delhi HC

Earlier, on 5 February, SC refused to entertain a plea, which had sought a direction to instant messaging platform WhatsApp to roll back its new privacy policy on grounds that it is allegedly violative of laws and can impact the country's security.

A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde observed that this issue is already being heard by the Delhi High Court and the petitioner can choose the suitable remedy.

The bench, also comprising justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, was hearing a plea filed by Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), which had sought a direction to the Centre to intervene in the matter and frame guidelines to govern big-tech companies such as WhatsApp Inc, Facebook Inc, and Facebook India.

(With inputs from LiveLaw)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!