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Facebook Says It Does Not Need a Constitution Bench, SC Stands Firm

In the current Whatsapp-Facebook privacy case, the Supreme Court on Wednesday referred the matter to be heard by a Constitution bench on April 18 but the counsel for Facebook contended that since “it was a contract issue,” it does not need the formation of a constitution bench.

Debayan Roy | News18.com

Updated:April 5, 2017, 1:27 PM IST
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Facebook Says It Does Not Need a Constitution Bench, SC Stands Firm
Logo of Facebook and WhatsApp (Representative Image: Reuters)

New Delhi: In the current Whatsapp-Facebook privacy case, the Supreme Court on Wednesday referred the matter to be heard by a Constitution bench on April 18 but the counsel for Facebook contended that since “it was a contract issue,” it does not need the formation of a constitution bench.

“This is a pure contract issue and there is no need to constitute a constitution bench to hear the matter,” submitted the counsel for the Facebook.

In January, the apex court while hearing a petition by engineering student Kamya Singh Sareen and a law student Shreya Sethi agreed to examine whether Facebook’s access to the details of calls, messages, pictures and documents exchanged by over 160 million Whatsapp users in India after it purchased the popular communication application violated the right to privacy of an Indian citizen.

On Wednesday, the petitioner submitted that this matter indeed merits to be heard by a constitution bench as it involves crucial questions of constitutional law.

“This is a matter which affects people in large and is an issue related to Article 21 as well as Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India,” said the petitioner.

This matter was previously slated to be heard by the constitution bench during the summer vacations when the apex court is going to hear cases like that of Triple Talaq and others. But in a sudden change of decision, the Chief Justice of India, JS Khehar ordered that a constitution bench of five judges will hear the matter on April 18 to decide if sharing the information of users with Facebook violates the right to privacy under Article 21 and also the right of free speech enshrined under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India.

When counsel for Facebook further pressed the issue of not forming a constitution bench as it is a contract issue, the SC stood firm by its order. Facebook had also submitted that this matter has been decided earlier by a seven judge bench and forming a five judge bench was not correct.

“You can pray for this in front of the Constitution bench, whether it is the date of hearing or size of the bench” said the bench led by CJI Khehar.

In January while hearing the matter, the bench of CJI Khehar and Justice DY Chandrachud were initially hesitant to hear the petition as it pointed the users own will to sign up for the free services.

“Isn't Whatsapp free? When the service is free and the user has the option of opting out from using the services, how can they be restrained from accessing the data sent through the medium created by them? It is a facility extended to you free of cost, take it or leave it," it had said.

But Harish Salve who was appearing for the petitioners had submitted that there is a need to regulate Whatsapp as it might pose a probable privacy threat. Salve had stated that the enormous amount of messages and calls made daily through Whatsapp has made it a “virtual telecom service provider, who stands to lose its licence in case of illegal tapping or accessing of calls or messages.” Salve had argued that Whatsapp had promised to protect the privacy of user data when it started operations in India in 2010 and this was a violation of its promise.

| Edited by: Ananya Chakraborty
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