Think tank asks panel to probe Facebook

Objecting to the transfer petition moved by Facebook in the Supreme Court, the state of Tamil Nadu on Thursday approached the apex court seeking that the Madras High Court be allowed to hear the matter and pass orders in the case. Facebook had in August approached the Supreme Court seeking to get all cases related to linking of Aadhaar number to social media profiles, pending before various high courts, to the apex court.

A two judge Bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose had in August agreed to hear the matter. Although the top court had said that it would not stop the Madras High Court from hearing the matter, it had directed that no final orders should be passed in the case. This, Tamil Nadu said in its plea filed on Thursday, had effectively meant a stay on proceedings in the high court despite the SC having refused to entertain the stay petition.

Alleging that the social media giant had incorrectly stated in its transfer petition the stage in which the cases related to linking of Aadhaar numbers to social media profiles was pending in various high courts, the state has in its plea before SC had said that if the case was not heard expeditiously, such as Facebook would continue to operate without following the country’s laws.

“In this regard, it may be noted that the local law enforcement authorities have attempted to seek information from these 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 said in its plea on Thursday.

Listing 34 such cases where Facebook or its subsidiary WhatsApp had refused to provide information citing one reason or the other, Tamil Nadu has said that if the SC did not modify its earlier order in which it had asked the high court not to pass final orders, “the people of Tamil Nadu will suffer grave and irreparable harm and injury”.

In its transfer petition, the social media company had said it was difficult for it to defend itself before high courts across the country. The high courts had given conflicting observations in the case, and it would be in the interest of justice if the apex court heard all the cases at one place, it had said.

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 proof for authentication of social media profiles. Other similar PIL sought that Facebook should seek some sort of government authorised identity before allowing any person to open an account on its platform.

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