Karmanya Singh Sareen v. Union of India

TannviCase Summary

Petition challenging updates to WhatsApp's privacy policy

Karmanya Singh Sareen & Anr v. Union of India & Ors.
(2016) 233 DLT 436 (DB)
In the High Court of Delhi
WP(C) 7663/2016 and CM 31553/2016
Before Chief Justice G. Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal
Decided on September 23, 2016

Relevancy of the Case: Petition challenging updates to WhatsApp’s privacy policy

Statutes and Provisions Involved

  • The Information Technology Act, 2000 (Section 87)
  • The Constitution of India, 1950 (Article 21)

Relevant Facts of the Case

  • The petitioners have approached the court based on the concerns of internet safety and seeking directions for the government to secure personal information. At present, India does not have a law governing the privacy of users. Moreover, the petition raises questions related to the privacy policy and consent practices of WhatsApp, along with information access options available with Facebook users.
  • Previously, the Delhi High Court had discarded an earlier petition and granted partial relaxation to the petitioner. As a result, the petitioner approached the Supreme Court. The honourable court directed Facebook and WhatsApp to file affidavits detailing the data they exchange. Thereafter, both the parties have filed their respective affidavits in time.
  • While the court has refused to grant immediate relief, it requested responses from WhatsApp, Twitter, and Google on their information sharing practices with the third parties.

Prominent Arguments by the Advocates

  • The petitioner’s counsel suggested alternative solutions, instead of updating the privacy policy of WhatsApp. These suggestions include:
    • A complete opt-out button for users to prevent WhatsApp from sharing their information with Facebook or other subsidiaries;
    • Deletion of user account data from WhatsApp servers when a user deletes their account; and
    • Preventing WhatsApp from being used as a business communication platform.

Opinion of the Bench

  • The bench noted that the right to privacy as a separate cause of action was yet to be decided by a larger Supreme Court bench. Hence, they would only pass an interim order.
  • Further, it suggested that the Government and TRAI should create a regulatory framework for the operation of apps like WhatsApp.

Final Decision

  • The court passed an interim order directing WhatsApp not to implement the updated changes to their privacy policy.
  • Also, the court passed the following directions for WhatsApp:
    • Delete information pertaining to non-existence users as of September 25, 2016, and
    • To not share information of existing users with Facebook until the same date.