New Delhi: The Delhi Police’s crime branch, which had sought information about 33 members of two WhatsApp groups following the violence at JNU in January 2020 from Google, has since received a reply from the company that such details can only be shared with the authorities after police send them a Letter Rogatory under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), the Indian Express reported.
The Delhi Police had written to WhatsApp and Google and sought details of messages, photos and videos shared by the 33 students and members of the two WhatsApp groups titled ‘Unity Against Left’ and ‘Friends of RSS’.
On January 5, 2020, students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University were attacked by masked persons armed with sticks and rods which left 36 people injured. The students, including the students’ union president, alleged that they were attacked by members and supporters of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) while the police looked on.
The police registered an FIR in connection with the case and the case was ultimately transferred to the Crime Branch, but no arrests have been made so far. One masked member was identified as an ABVP member, but she has not yet been arrested.
While WhatsApp had refused to share details in response to the Delhi Police’s request, Google had responded by saying the information sought relates to services offered by Google LLC, a company organised and operating in the US and governed by US laws.
Google said that while it would preserve the data, it would only share it after the company received a Letter Rogatory, or a formal request to a foreign court seeking judicial assistance in a probe, under the MLAT. “In such cases, Google follows diplomatic processes established between the jurisdiction requesting the data and the government of the United States,” a police source told the Indian Express. A mutual legal assistance treaty or MLAT is an agreement between two or more countries for exchanging information to enforce public or criminal laws.
The police had previously shared the email addresses of the 33 students and members of the two WhatsApp groups with Google. This was done because, as per sources, the police did not find any WhatsApp groups on the phones of students who were questioned, suggesting that the chats had been deleted by the suspects. The police believe that Google would be able to share a backup of the WhatsApp messages to aid the investigation.
Days after the attack on JNU students, the Delhi Police named nine persons, including the then JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh, who had sustained injuries in the attack, as suspects. Seven of the suspects named belong to Left-student groups and two were associated with ABVP.
A Delhi police fact-finding committee also absolved the police officers who were stationed near the gate of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus and had been accused of inaction while ‘masked goons’ who attacked students, faculty members and staff passed by them.