WhatsApp issue: SC asks Centre to respond to plea

NEW DELHI, OCT 8 (AGENCIES) | Publish Date: 10/8/2018 11:37:35 AM IST

Supreme Court Monday asked the Centre to file its reply on a plea alleging that WhatsApp does not comply with the Indian laws, including the provision for appointing a grievance officer.

A bench of Justices R F Nariman and Navin Sinha granted time to the Centre to file the reply after Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh said that various issues have been raised in the petition and it needs time to file the response.

The top court had issued a notice to the Centre and WhatsApp on a plea filed by an NGO, Centre for Accountability and Systemic Change (CASC), which also sought to restrain the platform from proceeding with its payment service unless it fully complies with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) provisions.

WhatsApp reportedly has over 200 million users in India and almost one million people are “testing” its payments service. India is one of the largest bases for the Facebook-owned company that has over 1.5 billion users globally.

In its plea, the CASC said that to open a bank account, a customer needs to comply with KYC norms laid down by the RBI and various other formalities.

“WhatsApp is a foreign company with no office or servers in India. To run Payments Service in India, WhatsApp is obligated to have its office and payments in India. Moreover, it is also required to have a Grievance Officer for users in India. Yet, it is being allowed to continue with its Payments and other services, without any check,” the plea claimed.

It also alleged that the social media giant does not comply with tax and other laws of India, but its reach was such that it is used by everyone, be it a commoner or even the judges of the apex court.

The plea, filed through advocate Virag Gupta, said that every user has a number on WhatsApp but the messaging platform has no number through which its user can contact it for any grievance redressal.

Pointing to various internet-based crimes, it claimed that the growth of such incidents was directly proportional to the growth of the user base of messaging services like WhatsApp.

“Companies like Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. have appointed Grievance Officer for users in India, but WhatsApp has not. However, the Grievance Officer of Facebook sits in Ireland and the Grievance Officer of Google sits in USA and are thus rendered ineffective.

“In order to make Respondent No. 6 (WhatsApp) accountable, it must be directed to comply with Indian Law and appoint Grievance Officer, who shall be the person to address grievance of consumers, as well as coordinate with investigating agencies,” the petition said.

Govt seeks time

Central government on Monday informed the Supreme Court that it would take more time to file a detailed reply in the WhatsApp matter.

The government’s reply came after an NGO had moved to the apex court alleging that WhatsApp was not implementing certain laws. It also claimed that the company is not fully co-operating with the Indian agencies to crack the menace of fake news leading to crimes including lynching and other incidents.

In its petition, the NGO also claimed that the government agencies were widely using the WhatsApp platform despite the company not complying with Indian laws. It has also been alleged that WhatsApp is not complying with the RBI guidelines.

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