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Linking social media accounts to Aadhaar: TN opposes Facebook plea seeking transfer of cases to SC

The Financial Express logo The Financial Express 13-09-2019 FE Bureau
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Opposing a petition filed by social media giant Facebook seeking transfer of its cases to the Supreme Court, the Tamil Nadu government on Thursday requested the apex court to allow the Madras High Court to hear the case related to the mandatory linking of social media profiles with Aadhaar number or any other government-authorised identity proof.

Both Facebook and WhatsApp had told the apex court that a case of this magnitude, where policy issues are involved and the privacy of the entire nation would be affected, should be heard by the highest court of the country. The social networking giant is wanting transfer of the four petitions on the WhatsApp traceability issue to the Supreme Court.

Facebook said that all the petitions before the HCs of Madras, Delhi, Bombay and Madhya Pradesh have sought similar relief to link Aadhaar information to social media accounts, which would potentially allow for the attribution of content to the person who posted such content. However, the Madras HC had expanded the scope of the petition to include issues like "curbing cybercrime and intermediary liability."

The Tamil Nadu government in its reply to Facebook's petition said that the social networking platform's plea about the "fallacious" reference to privacy was raised by it to distract the Supreme Court from its own non-compliance with the Indian law.

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Seeking expeditious hearing, it said that the social media companies like Facebook would continue to operate without following the country's laws. By filing this transfer petition, Facebook's "whole attempt" is to "evade compliance with Indian law," it said, adding that "the local law enforcement authorities have attempted to seek information from these companies for the investigation and detection of crimes, on several occasions. These companies, instead of replying and providing information in a bonafide manner, have asked the authorities to send Letters Rogatory etc, despite operating on Indian soil, and have in all cases failed to provide complete information," the state government stated.

Earlier, the apex court on August 20, while refusing to stay the proceedings in the Madras High Court, had issued notice to the Centre and Trai and various social media platforms including Google, YouTube, and Twitter.

The Bench had observed that "there is a conflict between privacy and how the government should run the country when crimes are committed. There has to be a balance... under what condition information can be given and to whom." 

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WhatsApp, which sees traceability as a violation of user privacy, has been opposing the government's attempt to enable traceability to help law enforcers catch perpetrators of misinformation on the instant messaging platform. The instant messaging app reportedly has over 200 million active users in India. The privacy argument, according to the TN government, "does not lie in the mouth of the petitioner (Facebook), whose primary business model is the use and commercialisation of users' data, which is in turn shared with businesses and political parties for targeted advertising".

Calling Facebook's argument about user privacy a "red herring", the state government said that Facebook has been in the news globally for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

According to the TN's application, the case before the Madras High Court related to the prevention and detection of crimes. The HC is not concerned with Aadhaar linkage, thus there is no need to transfer the case to the apex court, it added. The case is coming up for hearing on September 13.

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