The Supreme Court on Monday asked WhatsApp to give an undertaking that private data of users is not being shared with any third person, the Bar and Bench reported. The court told the messaging platform that people valued their privacy more than money.

A bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian also sought a response from the messaging platform, its parent company Facebook and the Centre, on a plea challenging WhatsApp’s latest privacy policy, that has run into controversy.

The bench also appreciated the arguments put forward by senior Advocate Shyam Divan, representing the petitioners. Divan had pointed out that the concerns over the new privacy policy should be seen along with the fact that there was no data protection law in India.

“We are impressed by Mr Divan’s argument that it was proposed before us that a data protection law would be brought into force,” Bobde said, according to Bar and Bench. “Now under this policy you will share data of Indians. You may be two or three trillion companies but people value their privacy more than money.”

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, representing WhatsApp, submitted that the new policy introduced by WhatsApp last month will not compromise the data of users and that it was applicable everywhere, except in Europe, where there is a law against its implementation, according to Bar and Bench.

“If India has a law we will follow the same,” Sibal said. To this, the bench responded: “Then put that on oath.”

Senior Counsel Mukul Rohatgi said the privacy concern was a “red herring”. “We can swear on affidavit that we neither store or share personal data,” he said.

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy

Last month, WhatsApp users received a notification that it was preparing a new privacy policy, and it reserved the right to share some user data with Facebook. However, after facing massive backlash and with millions of users moving to other messaging platforms like Signal and Telegram, WhatsApp on January 16, the earlier decided deadline to accept the new privacy policies.

WhatsApp said it would push back the changes to May 15 from February 8, and would “do lot more to clear up the misinformation” about the app.

The case so far

The plea was initially filed by two college students – Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi – in Delhi High Court, against the 2016 user policy of the messaging app. In September 2016, the High Court granted partial relief stating that the data of those WhatsApp users who had deleted the app before the 2016 policy came into effect cannot be used for any purposes, according to Bar and Bench.

The petitioners then approached the Supreme Court, challenging the verdict that only gave partial relief. In April 2017, the Supreme Court referred the matter to a Constitution bench, which kept it pending as the court was informed that a Justice BN Srikrishna-led committee was preparing the Data Protection Bill, Bar and Bench reported.

The petitioners then filed a fresh affidavit in the case, following the new policies introduced by WhatsApp in January. The new application sought to stay the implementation of the new policies.

Meanwhile, a separate petition filed by two people – Seema Singh and Meghan Singh, has challenged the new privacy policy in the Delhi High Court as well. In this case, the Centre told the court that WhatsApp was treating India and the European Union differently in connection with giving users a choice to opt out of its new policy.

During Monday’s hearing in the case in Supreme Court, Sibal referred to this case and pointed out that the challenge to the earlier policy was also pending before the Constitution bench, Bar and Bench reported. To this, the top court said that it will look into whether the High Court case should be transferred.

“But we will issue notice and [you] file replies,” the court said. “We may have to see if the matter is pending before us in a Constitution bench.” The matter will next be heard after four weeks.