‘Specify Timeline to Regulate Social Media Misuse’: SC to Centre

The SC said that technical matters relating to encryption need to be addressed by the Centre and not the court

3 min read
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Technology has taken a "dangerous turn", the Supreme Court observed on Tuesday, 24 September, and asked the Centre to apprise it within three weeks about the timeframe needed to come up with guidelines to curb misuse of social media in the country.

The Supreme Court was hearing Facebook’s plea to transfer four petitions on linking social media accounts to Aadhaar that are pending before the High Courts of Bombay, Madhya Pradesh and Madras (two PILs).

Neither the apex court nor the high court is competent to decide this scientific issue and it is for the government to come up with appropriate guidelines to deal with these issues, the Bench observed.

While the transfer of petition pertains to the linking of social media accounts to Aadhaar, the Madras High Court had dismissed the plea and is currently hearing arguments on the possibility of introducing traceability of messages on encrypted messaging platforms like WhatsApp.

The bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, has asked the Centre to file an affidavit listing a specific timeline for Notifying the Draft Intermediaries Guidelines Rules.

Focus Back on Intermediary Liability Rules

On 24 December 2018, the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), issued the The Draft Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules], 2018 (“the Draft Rules”).

These proposed amendments, drafted without any prior consultation with the public, propose that messaging apps, social networks, search engines, internet service providers, cyber cafes among others follow a content policing and filtering system.

While the ministry aims to weed out misinformation and curb potential violence arising from the circulation of rumours, in effect, the rules can heavily curb free speech, privacy and enforce surveillance over user content.

These rules pertain to its parent provision, that is Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, which deals with intermediary liability.

It will empower the government to sweep more personal data of citizens, monitor our online content and even enforce traceability of a message on texting apps by breaking encryption.

Rule 3(5) of Draft Intermediary Guidelines

The requirement of “tracing out of such originator of information on its platform” mentioned in Rule 3(5) constitutes an attack on the privacy of users by requiring encryption to be broken by messaging platforms such as WhatsApp.

No Objection to Transfer of Case to SC Says Centre

The Centre told the court that it had no objection to transfer of the cases as considerable judicial time has been spent by high courts on such cases.

Facebook and instant messaging app WhatsApp had said they have filed two appeals against Madras High Court orders.

The Tamil Nadu government, in its reply to the transfer petition, had claimed that Facebook Inc and other social media companies were not complying with Indian laws, resulting in “increased lawlessness” and difficulties in “detecting crimes”.

It had sought modification of the August 20 order of the apex court directing the Madras High Court to continue hearing pleas for linking social media profiles with Aadhaar but restraining it from passing any orders.

The high court is at an advanced stage of hearing but due to the apex court's August 20 order, it deferred the hearing on those petitions, the state government had said.

Decision by the Court will Have Global Effect: Facebook

On August 20, the apex court had sought response from the Centre, Google, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube and others on Facebook Inc's plea seeking transfer of cases, related to linking of social media accounts with Aadhaar.

Facebook Inc, while seeking the transfer of the cases to the top court, had contended that whether service providers can be asked to share data with probe agencies to help them in criminal investigation needs to be decided by the apex court as it will have a global effect.

The top court had asked social media companies including Facebook and WhatsApp to explain what would be the effect of recent amendments in Aadhaar Act by which the 12-digit unique identity number could be shared with the private party for larger public interest.

The state government has argued that both Facebook and WhatsApp have accepted the jurisdiction of the Madras High Court in dealing with the issue which would help agencies check fake news, pornographic content, terror messages as the originator could be traced.

It had said that an IIT professor is helping the Madras High Court to identify the originator of messages on these social media platforms.

(With inputs from PTI)

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