New Delhi: Technology has taken a "dangerous turn", the Supreme Court observed Tuesday and asked the Centre to apprise it within three weeks about the time-frame needed to come up with guidelines to curb misuse of social media in the country.
Expressing serious concern over some social media platforms not being able to trace the originator of a message or an online content, a bench of justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose said the government must step in now. 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 guideline to deal with these issues, the bench said.
The top court had earlier asked the Centre to clarify whether it was contemplating forming guidelines or a framework for linking social media accounts of users with their 12-digit biometric unique identifier Aadhaar. The court had said the matter, to help trace the originator of a content, needs to be decided at the earliest.
It had said that it would not go into the merits of the case and would only decide the plea filed by Facebook Inc, which is seeking transfer of cases related to Aadhaar linking pending before high courts of Madras, Bombay and Madhya Pradesh to itself. 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.
Referring to different criminal cases, the state government had said local law enforcement authorities have attempted to seek information from these companies for investigation and detection of crimes on several occasions. It had said that these companies ask authorities to send letters rogatory "despite operating on Indian soil" and have in all cases "failed to provide complete information".
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, pending in high courts to the apex court.
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 social media giant had argued that different high courts have taken contrary views and for the sake of uniformity it would be better if the cases are heard at the Supreme Court.
It had said that sharing of data with third party involves privacy concerns of users spread across the country and the case of this magnitude should be heard at the apex court. 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.
Facebook Inc had contended that there are four petitions - two in Madras High Court, one in Bombay HC and one in Madhya Pradesh HC - and they contained almost similar prayers.