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Ensure equal Net privacy for Indians and others: Centre

Social media companies, however big they were, have to comply with the laws of India and ‘have to treat Indian citizens with an equal degree of privacy’, the government tells Supreme Court

September 29, 2022 06:29 pm | Updated September 30, 2022 10:04 am IST - NEW DELHI

Apple iPhone 6s screen with social media applications Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, Youtube, Vimeo, LinkedIn, Pinterest, WhatsApp, etc. File

Apple iPhone 6s screen with social media applications Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, Youtube, Vimeo, LinkedIn, Pinterest, WhatsApp, etc. File | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The government on Thursday stated in the Supreme Court that it expects social media companies, however “big” they were, to treat Indian users’ privacy on a par with foreign customers.

"My stand is clear. Howsoever big the MNC be, if you are operating in India, you have to comply with the laws of India and have to treat Indian citizens with an equal degree of privacy as you treat others across the world," Solicitor General Tushar Mehta declared the government’s commitment to protecting internet privacy during a hearing before a Constitution Bench headed by Justice K.M. Joseph.

Mr. Mehta said "many directions of the Central government are flouted. Many legal directions under the statutory regime are flouted".

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

"Government is alive to the situation. The preparation of making the Bill is already going on. This issue requires more of a legislative response than a judicial intervention," the Solicitor General asked the Bench to wait for the law.

"If the government was keen to bring legislation, it would have done so. This case is pending for nearly five years," Justice Joseph said.

Mr. Mehta said a draft Bill had been earlier tabled and then withdrawn.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, for the petitioners, said corporations have to adopt a "golden mean or value" even in the absence of domestic online privacy laws.

The Bench decided to wait and see the outcome of the government's efforts to bring a Bill. It posted the case on January 17 for final disposal.

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

The duo had moved to the apex court after the Delhi High Court upheld the contract. The High Court had taken a nuanced position by confirming the legality of the policy though directing WhatsApp to “delete completely” from its server information/ data/ details of all users who choose to delete their account.

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