Treat privacy of Indian users on par with other nationals: Supreme Court tells social media companies

Treat Indian users’ privacy at par with other nationals: Supreme Court tells social media companies

Social media companies, however “big”, would be treated on par with the privacy of Indian users as foreign customers, the government said.

The government told the Supreme Court on Thursday that it expected social media companies, however “big”, to treat the privacy of Indian users the same way as foreign customers.

“My position is clear. No matter how big a multinational company is, if you operate in India, you must abide by the laws of India and you must treat Indian citizens with the same level of privacy as you treat others around the world,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta declared the government’s commitment to protect internet privacy during a hearing before the constitution chaired by Justice K.M. Joseph.

Mr. Mehta said that “many directives of the central government are flouted. Many laws under the statutory regime are flouted”.

He said the government is in the process of drafting a law to protect social media users.

“The government is living the situation. Drafting of the bill is already underway. This problem requires a legislative response rather than judicial intervention,” the Attorney General asked to wait for the law.

“If the government was interested in bringing in legislation, it would have done so. This case has been pending for almost five years,” Justice Joseph said.

Mr. Mehta said the bill had been introduced earlier and then withdrawn.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, for the petitioners, said corporations must adopt a “golden mean or value” even in the absence of national online privacy laws.

The bench decided to wait for the outcome of the government’s efforts to introduce the bill. She submitted the case for final disposal on January 17.

The case is based on a petition by Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi challenging the 2016 policy of the instant messaging app – WhatsApp – to allow Facebook access to information and personal data shared by millions of its users. They said the policy was a violation of their privacy and free speech.

The duo moved the apex court after the Delhi High Court upheld the contract. The Supreme Court took a nuanced stand by upholding the legality of the policy, though it ordered WhatsApp to “completely delete” from its server the information/data/details of any users who choose to delete their account.

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