Google asks police to get court order for chat details on JNU clash

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The Delhi Police Crime Branch, which had written to Google seeking information about 33 members of two WhatsApp groups following the January 2020 violence at JNU, has received a reply from the company stating that such details can only be provided after police send them a Letter Rogatory under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), The Indian Express has learnt.

On January 5 last year, around 100 masked persons armed with sticks and rods had gone on a rampage inside the university for around four hours, leaving 36 students, teachers, and staff injured. An FIR was registered and the case was transferred to the Crime Branch. No arrest has been made so far.

Police had written to WhatsApp and Google, asking for details of messages, photos and videos shared by the 33 students and members of the two WhatsApp groups — ‘Unity Against Left’ and ‘Friends of RSS’.

While WhatsApp refused to share details, Google recently sent a reply, saying the information requested relates to services offered by Google LLC, a company organised and operating in the US and governed by US laws. They said they would preserve the data, but would share it only after they receive a Letter Rogatory under the MLAT. In such cases, Google follows diplomatic processes established between the jurisdiction requesting the data and the government of the United States,” said a police source.

A Letter Rogatory is a formal request to a foreign court seeking judicial assistance in probing an entity in another country. An MLAT is an agreement between two or more countries for gathering and exchanging information in an effort to enforce public or criminal laws.

Police had shared with Google the email addresses of the 33 students and members of the two WhatsApp groups.

Sources said investigators had to do this since they did not find any WhatsApp groups on the phones of students who were questioned in connection with the incident, suggesting that the suspects had possibly wiped their chats clean. Sources said police believed Google would be able to share back-up of WhatsApp messages to aid with the investigation.

On January 9 last year, Delhi Police had released the names of nine suspects — all students, of whom seven were identified as members of Left-student outfits. The other two were from the RSS’s student outfit, the ABVP, though police did not name the body.

After registering an FIR, 20 personnel of the police’s Special Investigation Team set up a camp office inside the JNU administration block. Police later questioned Delhi University student Komal Sharma, who claimed that she was not present on campus during the violence.

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