The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday transferred all the petitions related to linking of Aadhaar to social media profiles, pending in various high courts to itself. The case will be next heard in January next year, after the central government finalises its rules to prevent misuse of social media.
All the cases pending in various high courts will now be transferred to the SC to be placed before an appropriate Bench, a two-judge Bench of Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose said.
On Monday, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had through an affidavit said it had held several rounds of stakeholder discussions and that it needed three more months to deliberate on the suggestions received and come up with the rules.
In its affidavit, the MeitY had said though “technology has led to economic growth and societal development, on the other hand, there has been an exponential rise in hate speech, fake news, public order, anti-national activities, defamatory postings, and other unlawful activities using internet/social media platforms”.
To counter the problem, the government said it wanted to come up with rules so as to effectively regulate social media companies “keeping in view the ever growing threats to individual rights and nation’s integrity, sovereignty, and security”.
During the arguments on Tuesday, the government reiterated its stand that though it did not want to violate the privacy of any individual, it could not allow terrorists and other anti-national elements to get away due to privacy on such platforms.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, also told the court that the claim of some of the petitioners about the new draft rule being “government’s ploy to trample individual’s privacy” was “rubbish”.
Observing that technology had taken a “dangerous turn”, the Bench had during an earlier hearing on September 24, said that social media firms expressing inability in tracing the origin of morphed photos, pornographic content, or terror messages was a serious concern.
There have been several public interest litigations (PILs) filed in the case, with the earliest being moved before the Madras high court in July 2018. The petitioner, Antony Clement Rubin, had sought directions from the court to ask the government to make it mandatory to link Aadhaar or any other government authorised identity (ID) proof for authentication of social media profiles. Other similar PILs sought that Facebook should seek some similar ID proof before allowing any person to open an account on its platform.
Though Tamil Nadu had initially opposed the transfer of the petition being heard at the Madras high court, on Tuesday the state dropped its plea and said that it had no problems with the SC hearing all the pleas together.
The MeitY had proposed changes to Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and asked for public comments on the draft amendments that seek to regulate a set of companies that qualify as intermediaries.
Among other things, the proposed amendments ask the intermediary to trace the origin of a fake message. This would mean platforms such as WhatsApp would have to weaken their encryption and undermine user privacy. The proposed changes also required an intermediary to provide access to the origin of a message within 72 hours of a government agency making a request for information.
WhatsApp has maintained that tracing the origin of messages would mean breaking end-to-end encryption on the platform, which is what makes WhatsApp a trusted source of communication.
(With inputs from Neha Alawadhi)