The Centre told the Supreme Court that an expert committee has been constituted under the chairmanship of former apex court judge Justice B N Srikrishna to identify key data protection issues in India and recommend methods to address them.
The government told a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra that after the committee’s report is submitted, “there is a possibility that the law shall be passed regulating data protection”.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the committee would study various issues and make specific suggestions for consideration of the government on the principles to be considered for data protection.
Mehta told the bench, also comprising Justices A K Sikri, Amitava Roy, A M Khanwilkar and M M Shantanagoudar, that the panel would also recommend a draft data protection bill.
He said the government was aware of growing importance of data protection and the need to ensure the growth of digital economy while keeping the personal data of citizens secure and protected, which was of utmost importance.
Besides Justice Srikrishna, the other members of the panel include Aruna Sundararajan, secretary of the Department of Telecom, Ajay Bhushan Pandey, CEO of UIDAI, Ajay Kumar, additional secretary of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and Gulshan Rai, national cyber security coordinator.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Arvind Datar, appearing for WhatsApp and Facebook respectively, denied the allegations and said they were not sharing data with any third party.
Facebook had acquired WhatsApp in 2014.
Later, Sibal said that they were only sharing details like ‘last seen’, telephone number and device details.
He also said that no content shared on WhatsApp by the users was shared with anybody else because it was end-to-end encrypted and even WhatsApp cannot look into the messages or photos shared by its users.
The bench, however, asked Sibal and Datar to file an affidavit regarding the assertions made by the petitioners.
“Let the affidavit be filed within four weeks hence.
After the affidavits are filed, the matter shall be listed for consideration of passing the interim order. Be it clarified, if the assertions made in the affidavit would not require any kind of intervention by this court, this court may not pass any interim order,” the bench said and fixed the matter for hearing on November 20.
During the hearing, Datar referred to the apex court judgement declaring right to privacy a fundamental right and said the nine-judge constitution bench has already expressed the view that there should be a law with regard to data protection in India.
The petitioners also contended that though the privacy verdict has come, there were several key aspects which were required to be dealt with by this five-judge bench.
However, the bench said, “a committee has been set up. It is not a simple human rights issue. In what manner data protection would be there, the committee will consider it”.
During the arguments, while Sibal claimed that users were sharing there details even on Google, Datar contended that this was a “highly complex issue”.
The apex court was hearing the appeal assailing the Delhi High Court verdict on the ground that no relief was granted for the data shared by the users after September 25, 2016, which amounted to the infringement of the fundamental rights under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution.