The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would examine whether it should wait for the Parliament’s decision on a new online Data Protection Bill scheduled to be introduced in the second half of the Budget Session or go ahead and hear a bunch of petitions challenging WhatsApp’s policy to share users’ data with Facebook group of companies.
Appearing before a Constitution Bench led by Justice K.M. Joseph, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the court should not allow any discussion on the Bill until the Parliament first debated it.
Mr. Mehta said the Bill presents a “comprehensive legal framework for digital data protection in India”. He said the government “intended” to introduce the Bill in the Parliament in the second half from February 13. He argued that any assistance given to the court now before the Bill matured into an Act in the Parliament would be “speculative” and “academic”.
“But your submissions only suggest an anticipated collision… The Bill is yet to be introduced in the Parliament,” Justice Aniruddha Bose observed orally.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for WhatsApp, said a nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in the K.S. Puttaswamy has said it would be better for the court to deal with a problem after the Parliament formulated the law especially when non-state actors were involved.
Mr. Mehta asked whether it would be justified in the court “pre-empting” the parliamentary debates on the Bill.
“Are you saying that we cannot even look at the Bill? It becomes the property of the Parliament only after it is introduced there,” Justice Bose said.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that the introduction of a Bill itself should not defer the taking up of this case. He said the petitions seek the direction that personal data cannot be shared with the Facebook group of companies.
“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,” he said.
The apex court was hearing the plea filed by two students, Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, challenging the contract entered into between the two companies to provide access to calls, photographs, texts, videos and documents shared by users as a violation of their privacy and free speech.