India government asks Delhi High Court to block implementation of WhatsApp privacy policy
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India government asks Delhi High Court to block implementation of WhatsApp privacy policy

The Central Government of India has urged the Delhi High Court to restrain WhatsApp Inc. from implementing its contentious new privacy policy that has drawn criticism from regulatory bodies, digital rights advocates and general citizens alike.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology told the court Friday that WhatsApp’s privacy policy violates the Information Technology Rules of 2011 (IT Rules, 2011) and that it should be restrained from implementing the policy until the court decides on its validity under Indian law. The government’s request arises out of the court’s direction last month seeking the center’s response to a petition by citizens challenging the policy’s validity under the right to privacy.

The petition is a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Dr. Seema Singh and others, which contends violation of the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution by denying users a choice to protect their personal data and opt-out of the policy. Parties who do not consent will be denied access to the messaging platform once the new policy is implemented. The petitioners also raise the concern of personal data being shared and used by Facebook companies and other third parties for commercial purposes. They thus asked the court to direct the withdrawal of the policy or require parties to be given the option to opt-out.

The central government has submitted that WhatsApp policy violates the IT Rules, 2011, because it fails to specify the types of personal data to be collected, to notify user details of the collection of sensitive personal information, to provide an option to review or amend the information collected, to provide an option to withdraw consent retrospectively and to guarantee further non-disclosure by third parties.

Notably, the Minister of State for IT and Communications Sanjay Dhotre had on Wednesday last week informed the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian Parliament) that the government has asked WhatsApp “to review the proposed privacy policy changes and also to explain the rationale of the same.”

Due to overwhelming criticism, WhatsApp had in January postponed the implementation of the policy to start from May. The challenge to WhatsApp’s policy is part of a larger concern that India does not yet have specific legislation for the protection of personal data privacy. Consequently, the government faces a regulatory hurdle in requiring tech platforms to comply with privacy principles while handling user data.