The Delhi High Court has issued a notice to the central government, and to social media companies — Facebook, Twitter and Google — on a petition for clarity on officers designated to order the blocking of content on these sites.
The petition is by former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideologue K N Govindacharya. A Bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and C Hari Shankar issued notices to the ministries of home, finance and electronics & information technology, and the three online platforms. They are to file a reply within four weeks. The matter is listed next on April 14.
The Information Technology Act defines a 'designated officer' in this regard as someone 'not below the rank of a joint secretary' and who can issue directions for blocking of content generated on platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, officially termed as intermediaries.
The latter are each required to have "at least one person to receive and handle the directions for blocking of access by the public of any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource under these rules".
Govindacharya's counsel, Virag Gupta, told the Bench the government interacts with social media companies which claim to do business through their foreign parent company in India. In such a situation, it is necessary for the government to disclose the details of designated officers at these social media firms,being vital for combating hate speech in times of rioting.
"On many occasions, social media companies have censored or taken down content, against which many users have grievances but are left with no remedy to approach the appropriate authority. Similarly, there is hateful content that is not taken down, which in turn causes more crimes and leaves everyone hapless," goes the petition.
"According to Delhi Police, social media platforms have become a haven for hate speech, regarding which there is no clear mechanism to enforce justice," it also contends. Adding that social media companies have been "misusing the idea of free speech and not been complying with Indian laws," and that such "objectionable content is a big source of revenue for social media companies but the same is manipulated to evade taxes".