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India

JNU violence: court orders seizure of 2 WhatsApp group members’ phones

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday directed the police to summon and seize the phones of members of two WhatsApp groups — ‘United Against Left’ and ‘Friends of RSS’ — in connection with the January 5 violence on the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus.

Justice Brijesh Sethi asked Google and WhatsApp to preserve and provide data related to the incident as per their respective policies to the police. 

The court asked JNU’s Chief Security Officer, its Registrar and Branch Manager of SBI-JNU campus to extend all possible assistance to the police with regard to providing CCTV footage related to January 5 incident.

Delhi police senior standing counsel Rahul Mehra told the court that they had identified 37 persons who were part of the two WhatsApp chat groups, and notices have been sent to them to appear before the police.

Mr. Mehra said they had, on January 10 and 11, sought the preservation and provision of data related to the incident from WhatsApp. “We have asked them to respond to our request in terms of their emergency provision.”

WhatsApp responded that once a chat is delivered to a person, it is no longer stored on its servers due to its ‘end-to-end encryption’. It claimed that chats would be available only on the recipient’s and sender’s phones.

Google said it could preserve available data on Google Drive on receipt on basic subscriber details such as email account.

The court order came while hearing a petition filed by JNU professors Ameet Parameswaran, Atul Sood, Shukla Vinayak Sawant seeking the preservation of data pertaining to the violence.

The petition claimed that particulars of the incident “seem to indicate that the entire attack was premeditated and coordinated”. The professors said they had been personally injured in the violence. “Unless the same had been the result of a pre-planned conspiracy, it would not have been possible for a mob in such large numbers, many of whom appear to be outsiders, to enter the JNU campus,” they said.

“The existence of a premeditated and well-organised attack is further clear from the fact that these persons were covering their faces wearing marks, without any proper identification, carrying weapons and so on,” the plea stated.

It submitted that several persons appeared to have used WhatsApp to create different groups with the purpose of inciting hate and violence against the JNU teachers, staff, and students.

The petition has categorically asked for preservation of data of ‘Unity Against Left’ and ‘Friends of RSS’ groups, including messages, pictures and videos as well as phone numbers of members related to the incident.

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