WhatsApp revised privacy policy: Justice Singh recuses herself from plea

Justice Prathiba Singh ordered that the matter be placed before another single-judge Bench
Justice Prathiba Singh of the Delhi High Court on Friday recused herself from hearing the petition challenging the updated privacy policy of messaging giant WhatsApp.

In a brief hearing, Justice Singh took objection to an email sent to the court by WhatsApp, and on account of that she took the decision.

Law platform Bar & Bench said it was “understood that the email pointed out that Justice Singh had appeared in a connected matter when she was a lawyer”.

WhatsApp later withdrew the email unconditionally.

“I am not going to hear this case. I was, in any case, not going to hear it,” said Justice Singh, according to Bar & Bench.

However, Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma urged the judge not to recuse herself. He said there could not be a better person to hear this matter and it was an important question of law. But Justice Singh said she was sending it to another judge.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for WhatsApp, asked for the matter to be listed before a single-judge Bench.

Justice Singh suggested the case be treated as PIL (public interest litigation). The matter will now be heard by another Bench on Monday.

The petition, preferred by advocate Chaitanya Rohilla, has said the new privacy policy of WhatsApp violates the right to privacy, guaranteed under the Constitution of India.

Salman Waris, managing partner at technology law firm TechLegis Advocates and Solicitors, said: “The revised terms and conditions and the modified Privacy Policy clearly appear as an abuse of WhatsApp and Facebook’s dominant position in the market.”
“The petition has sought a direction to the Central government to exercise its powers under the Information Technology Act and ensure that WhatsApp does not share any data of its users with any third party or Facebook and its companies,” Waris said.

“The primary contention of the petitioner is that the new policy ‘virtually gives a 360-degree profile into a person’s online activity’, without any ‘government oversight’, and ‘takes away the choice’ of a user to not share their data with other Facebook-owned apps and third-party apps.”

The petition has highlighted there is no clarity on the extent to which data will be shared. It raises questions about what will be done with the sensitive data of users.

It says under the new terms and conditions, WhatsApp would be sharing transaction data, mobile device information, IP addresses, and other data on how users interact with businesses on WhatsApp with Facebook group companies, including Instagram.

WhatsApp recently said it updated its privacy policy and terms of service to integrate with other products and services offered by its parent company, Facebook. The most prominent changes deal with how WhatsApp shares information with Facebook and its subsidiaries. The instant messaging app can now share phone numbers and transaction data with Facebook. The aim is to also promote safety.

“Privacy policy and terms updates are common in the tech industry. Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA. Since we started WhatsApp, we’ve built our services with a set of strong privacy principles in mind,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said recently. 

The privacy policy and terms come into effect on February 8. Experts say this means that if a user does not accept the new changes, the person will lose access to the app or may not be able to use all the features.

India is the biggest user base for Facebook, with around 328 million of them. WhatsApp has 400 million users here, also the highest.

In continuation with its tirade against the messaging entity, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), which represents 70 million traders, said it might go to court if the government did not take action against WhatsApp.

It urged the government for a technical audit of WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram.

CAIT has sent another communication to Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on this.

“After failing in its attempt in the European Union to continue this policy, Facebook has now made India as a new target,” said CAIT National President B C Bhartia and Secretary General Praveen Khandelwal in a statement.

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