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Privacy of personal data part of right to life: Centre to SC

NEW DELHI: A week after saying that Privacy was a ‘common law right’, the Centre on Friday emphatically told the Supreme Court that privacy of personal data of internet and social network users is embedded in the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Before a nine-judge bench of SC hearing validity of Aadhaar, challenged on the ground of violating right to privacy, attorney general K K Venugopal had cited two SC judgments — one by an eight-judge bench in 1954 and another by a six-judge bench in 1962— to argue that privacy is a common law right and petitioners could not complain of breach of privacy due to collection of biometric data of citizens for Aadhaar.

On Friday, a five-judge bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra was hearing a petition filed by Karmanya Singh, who alleged that after Facebook acquired Whatsapp, users were forced to accept a privacy policy that allows WhatsApp to access messages, call details and data transfer information in violation of right to privacy. WhatsApp and Facebook have denied the charge and said privacy remained protected as messaging was endto-end encrypted.

As arguments heated up between senior advocates Harish Salve and Kapil Sibal, who crossed swords for the petitioner and WhatsApp, respectively, additional solicitor general P S Narasimha stepped in and said: “Personal data is an extension of an individual’s personality. Data of a personality is integral to right to life guaranteed under Article 21.”

“If any contractual agreement impinges on the privacy of personal data, it violates Article 21. At this juncture, the government has the power and obligation to step in,” Narasimha said.

Though the case saw some rapid fire exchanges, all concerned including the bench and all sides in the dispute agreed that the issue of privacy will need to be addressed and it might be best to wait till it is settled by the nine-judge bench hearing the challenge to Aadhar on the grounds that privacy is a fundamental right. The government, in the Aadhar case, is arguing that reasonable restrictions can be imposed on individual’s privacy.

Salve accused WhatsApp of taking advantage of its near monopoly in the free messaging platform to force users to believe that if they did not agree with the privacy policy, they would not be able to enjoy the service. “It may be WhatsApp today and Uber tomorrow or any other ticketing services run by non-state players. The question is — can they use my personal data for commercial exploitation? Is this not violation of privacy?.”

Sibal said millions of users have no problem about the WhatsApp privacy policy. “Why only two petitioners have problems with WhatsApp when similar data-sharing is going on in all platforms? There is a design in targeting WhatsApp. If any injury is caused to any user because of data-sharing, WhatsApp will be liable. But the government cannot regulate on mere possibility,” he said.

The bench said: “Why cannot the court say because you (WhatsApp) are providing a public service, you cannot impose conditions on users and tell them that they can access the service only if they accepted the privacy policy? Are you not curtailing free choice?”

Source : timesofindia



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