THE SUPREME Court on Monday issued notice to the Centre and WhatsApp on a petition which said the messaging platform was yet to comply with the requirements under Indian law, including the appointment of a grievance officer.
A bench of Justices R F Nariman and Indu Malhotra issued the notice on a plea filed by NGO Centre for Accountability and Systemic Change (CASC). The parties have four weeks to file their replies.
The NGO also requested the court not to allow the platform to proceed with its payment service unless it meets the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines. The CASC submitted that a customer who wants to open a bank account needs to comply with KYC norms laid down by the RBI and fulfil various other requirements.
But “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,” it said. “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,” it added.
Appearing for the NGO, advocate Virag Gupta also referred to alleged violation of tax laws and rumours on WhatsApp fuelling crimes.
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.
The petition alleged that the social media giant does not comply with tax and other laws.
Referring to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics about offences against public tranquillity, it said the “growth of such rumour-based crimes are directly proportional to growth of user base of messaging services like WhatsApp, which continue to remain unregulated, not because of lack of laws, but absolute executive apathy”.
The platform had wide reach, it said, adding that every user has a number on WhatsApp but the messaging platform has no number through which a user can contact it to redress any grievance.
“Companies like Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. have appointed grievance officers 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,” it said.
“In order to make Respondent No. 6 (WhatsApp) accountable, it must be directed to comply with Indian law and appoint a grievance officer, who shall be the person to address grievance of consumers, as well as coordinate with investigating agencies,” said the petition.