SC tells centre to frame guidelines to prevent social media misuse
25 September 2019
This Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the centre to frame guidelines for prevention of social media misuse while expressing concern over issues like trolling, character assassination, spreading lies and fake news.
Emphasising that social media should be regulated, the apex court also detailed the timeline for framing the draft final rules for regulating social media.
A bench headed by Justice Deepak Gupta told the union government to frame social media regulations, and file an affidavit within three weeks, detailing the timeline.
Justice Gupta also expressed his extreme unease at the dangerous inroads made by online technology, saying it hardly took five minutes to buy an AK-47 on the dark web.
Observing that anonymous entities use social media to troll innocents online, drag reputations through the mud, perpetrate hate and crimes like paedophilia online unchecked, Justice Gupta said he may renounce his smartphone and embrace privacy.
"It is dangerous the way the technology is going. After the last hearing I researched and found I could buy an Ak-47, on the dark web, in 30 minutes," Justice Gupta said, adding, "I was telling someone I want to give up my smartphone".
It was necessary to trace and punish the 'originators' of these crimes. The government has to take the initiative with social intermediaries such as Facebook and WhatsApp, he said, adding that courts have little expertise in the area.
"(The) originator (of fake messages) must be traced. At the same time, sovereignty of the nation and the privacy of individuals should be maintained. Neither we nor a high court can decide. It is for the government to come up with a policy," a two-judge bench headed by Justice Deepak Gupta observed.
The observation comes three days after the same bench asked the government to explain if it was contemplating any move to link social media profiles to an individual's Aadhaar account.
The court has made it clear that, in the current instance, the issue is not about the linking of Aadhar but tracking down original senders of fake news and messages that have led to mob attacks and killings.
"There is enough scientific brain in this country. If there is technology to encrypt then there must be technology to decrypt also," the top court said, warning the centre once again that a balance needed to be struck.
To the question of the centre linking social media profiles and Aadhaar, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta said the government was still studying the matter and had not yet taken a decision.
In response, lawyers appearing for Facebook and WhatsApp pointed out it was possible to identify message senders on the former platform.
The Supreme Court was responding to a petition filed by Facebook and WhatsApp seeking the transfer of cases concerning the demand to link Aadhaar that are currently pending at Madras, Bombay and Madhya Pradesh High Courts.
They argued that any decision in these cases would have national security ramifications and therefore should be decided by the top court of the land.
The court said the union government should frame guidelines for the intermediaries - Facebook and WhatsApp - to provide information for offending posts, keeping in mind that privacy of the individual should not be invaded.
The Tamil Nadu government, which has opposed the transfer of cases, has claimed Facebook is non-compliant with Indian laws, resulting in "difficulties in "detecting crime".
"When police probe criminal or terrorist cases they are unable to find who forwarded the messages. Multinationals (referring to Facebook and WhatsApp) don't want the High Court to decide," the state, represented by Attorney-General KK Venugopal, said.
WhatsApp also came under scrutiny of the union home ministry last year in a bid to foil communication between terrorists - especially ones hit by insurgency like Jammu and Kashmir.
"WhatsApp calling and messaging have now become the preferred medium of communication for anti-national forces and we are right now clueless about keeping a tab on it. We need a policy where, when it comes to national security, these apps will be forced to share information with the security agencies," an officer told NDTV.
The centre had earlier indicated it could take legal action after WhatsApp, which prides itself on being a completely encrypted messenger, refused to allow original senders of messages to be tracked.