Govindacharya withdraws plea against WhatsApp

K N Govindacharya

Former RSS ideologue K N Govindacharya on Monday withdrew his plea seeking perjury proceedings against WhatsApp and an NIA probe of the social media firm, its parent company Facebook and the NSO Group over privacy concerns after being told that pleas which raised similar issues were already pending in the Supreme Court.

A Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant initially asked senior advocate Vikas Singh, who appeared for Govindacharya, why in such matters parties don’t approach the High Court first.

Opposing the petition, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi said similar matters were already pending before a bench of the Supreme Court.

His reference was to the four petitions ordered to be transferred to the apex court from various High Courts. These petitions, which sought linking of social media accounts to Aadhaar number of the user, had raised questions of privacy vis-a-vis security.

Explained | Surveillance via WhatsApp: The case against Israeli spyware firm NSO, and how attack happened

Agreeing to withdraw the plea, Singh submitted that he will look into the pending matters and do the needful.

“Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioner, prays for withdrawal of this petition with liberty to file appropriate proceedings. Prayer is allowed. Accordingly, the writ petition is dismissed as withdrawn with the liberty aforesaid,” the bench said in the order.

Govindacharya alleged that WhatsApp had “deliberately mislead” the court during the hearing of a plea by Facebook, which had sought transfer of the four petitions to the SC. He contended that WhatApp had said that users’ data is fully encrypted and no one, including WhatsApp, has the key.

However, on October 30, WhatsApp Inc., which is a subsidiary of Facebook Inc., revealed to the public that its systems were compromised by Israel-based surveillance company NSO Group. WhatsApp also disclosed that it has filed a case before the District Court in California against the NSO Group.

Thus the “statement (of WhatsApp) is contradictory to its own filing before the US Supreme Court which states that it came to know about the hacking in May 2019. Thus, it is clear that WhatsApp committed perjury by falsely claiming a protected system and failing to disclose about the NSO Hack to the Hon’ble Supreme Court”, the plea said, seeking proceedings against the social media company.

Govindacharya said that in the alleged hack, data of many Indian citizens, who are mainly human rights activists and lawyers, was also compromised. This was reportedly informed to them by WhatsApp and its partner organisations. Many such individuals have come out in the public.

Govindacharya said Internet companies have been violating the privacy of Indian users by taking their data abroad and utilising it for commercial gains.

He said, “In case the Government is doing surveillance illegally, it shows the scant respect for rule of law by the instrumentalities of the State. In case private agencies are doing surveillance of Indian citizens, the same cannot be allowed by the Government, which has a duty to protect the fundamental rights.”

The plea said that after the WhatsApp NSO hack, he had written to the Union Minister for Electronics and IT and sought that government accounts on private communication networks must be removed to protect national security.