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Considering regulatory framework to protect online data: Centre tell Supreme Court

New Delhi: The central government on Thursday told the Supreme Court that it was considering putting in place a regulatory regime to protect data and uphold the individual's freedom of choice.

Telling the constitution bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra that the government was mulling a a regulatory mechanism to protect data, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that "freedom of choice must be protected".

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The government stand was the reiteration of what Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had said in the course of last hearing on 18 April that the government is mulling a framework for data protection like the one existing in Britain and the US.

Referring to the proposed regulatory mechanism for the protection of data, senior counsel KK Venugopal told the constitution bench also comprising Justice AK Sikri, Justice Amitava Roy, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Mohan M Shantanagoudra that "If government of India is coming forward with a regulatory regime, we can wait, what is the hurry?"

Appearing for petitioners Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, senior counsel Harish Salve submitted a set of questions focusing on the right to privacy.

In one of the six questions framed for consideration by the constitution bench, Salve asked whether Article 21 read with Article 14, 19, and 25 of the Constitution confer upon all persons the right to privacy in respect of communications which are private in nature, irrespective of medium of communication.

Senior counsel Kapil Sibal, appearing for online messaging service WhatsApp, said the messages sent belonged to the users with the platform not being able to read them and it had built privacy with end to end encryption. "Our policy is we don't snoop," he said.

As Salve mentioned the privacy, Venugopal said that if privacy is the issue, then they will have to wait till nine judges bench decides whether privacy was a fundamental right as referred in the matter challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar scheme.

Meeting the contention, Salve said that privacy has many dimensions and sought to make distinction in the breach of privacy vis-a-vis in the collection of biometric information and violation of privacy in breach of confidentiality.

In a batch of petitions, the validity of the Aadhaar scheme has been challenged on the grounds of its being violative of right to privacy.

The court was told this in the course of the hearing of a plea by Sareen and Sethi who have challenged a Delhi High Court 23 September order, allowing WhatsApp to roll out its new privacy policy but stopping it from sharing the data of its users collected up to 25 September, 2016, with Facebook or any other related company.

Directing the next hearing of the matter on 15 May, the court said that all the counsel would address the bench on questions framed by them and then it would decide on the dates to hear the matter on its entirety.

Updated Date: Apr 27, 2017 22:01 PM

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