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Centre mulls law to protect digital privacy

| | New Delhi

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push for digital transactions, the Centre has decided to enact a law to protect data shared on internet either through payment apps such as Paytm or on social media forums such as WhatsApp, Facebook, etc.

Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi disclosed this before a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court during a hearing of a petition challenging the privacy policy of WhatsApp allowing the company to share information about its users with Facebook.

The issue of privacy involving such social media platforms had emerged as a major reason for the apex court to refer the case to a Constitution Bench.

The petition filed by one Karmanya Singh Sareen was argued by senior advocate Harish Salve, who flagged the twin issues of privacy and data protection claiming that the policy of WhatsApp is an assault on the fundamental rights of citizen’s to privacy protected under Article 21 and right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a).

Rohatgi requested the Constitution Bench to defer the hearing of the case till August while disclosing that by that time, the Centre intends to put in place a law to protect data stored and exchanged on digital platforms.

“The Government is mulling on a data protection framework which essentially has to be in the form of a legislation to be passed by Parliament in line with the US law on this subject.”

Explaining how this law can impact the future of digital transactions, the A-G said, “Suppose you use Paytm and transact money to a shop owner or rickshaw puller, along with the data that is exchanged, it shows the profile of the person transferring the data. This data has to be protected.”

Similarly, he pointed out that in the United States, a very important case is being closely monitored by the Indian Government that speaks of the “Right to be Forgotten”. “Suppose a person committed a misdemeanor at the prime of his youth that reflects against his name every time a query on his profile is made on the internet, that person can claim that his past should not reflect as part of his right to privacy,” the A-G submitted. This aspect is being looked into to fasten a liability on internet service providers to respect citizen’s right to privacy, the top law officer indicated.

However, this may take time as the law will be in place only by September-October this year, according to the A-G and requested for the matter to be adjourned.

But the Bench of Justices Dipak Misra, AK Sikri, Amitava Roy, AM Khanwilkar and MM Shantanagouder allowed Salve to formulate the questions of law for determination by the Constitution Bench and fixed the matter for hearing on April 27.



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