Aadhaar Linking to Social Media Accounts: Supreme Seeks Response on Facebook Plea From Stakeholders, Centre

The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a notice to the Centre and others seeking their response on Facebook’s plea to transfer four cases from three High Courts to itself. The cases sought to link Aadhaar or other government authorised identity proofs to social media accounts for authentication. The responses would help the apex court decide whether social networking sites should be compelled to share with police information pertaining to criminals. 

The apex court sought responses from social media entities Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, apart from the Centre and Tamil Nadu Government, on Facebook’s plea, and listed the matter for further hearing on September 13. However, the Supreme Court did not stay proceedings in the High Courts but refrained them from passing any final order.

The Supreme Court’s order came on the submission made by Facebook that the transfer of cases would serve the interests of justice by avoiding the possibility of conflicting decisions from the High Courts.

Facebook told the apex court that two petitions had been filed in the Madras High Court and one each in the Bombay and Madhya Pradesh High Courts. All the pleas in three High Courts have sought a declaration that Aadhaar or any other government authorised identity proof should be made mandatory to authenticate social media accounts.

“All the common cases seeks similar relief and involve the similar question of law,” Facebook said in its plea, adding that any finding on the common questions would have far-reaching implications for the general public and the parties. The petitioner has sought a stay on the proceedings in various High Courts.

A bench headed by Justice Deepak Gupta observed that the top court needed to find a balance between the right to online privacy and the duty to detect people who spread panic and commit crime online. “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,” the Supreme Court said.

Appearing for the Tamil Nadu Government, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal cited incidents of online games like Blue Whale which had caused deaths in India and said that the service providers did not provide details of the ‘originator’.

He cited crime including terrorism and pornography and said that there was no mechanism to detect the originator and that sharing of information by social media sites with police would help in resolving crimes.

The apex court on Monday was told by the Tamil Nadu government that social media profiles of users need to be linked with Aadhaar numbers to check circulation of fake, defamatory, and pornographic content as also anti-national and terror material. Facebook is resisting the state’s suggestion on grounds that sharing of Aadhaar would violate privacy policy of users. Facebook had said that it cannot share Aadhaar number with a third party as the content on its instant messaging app WhatsApp was end-to-end encrypted and even it does not have access to it.