The Supreme Court on Friday decided to hear a plea by Facebook to call forth petitions pending in various high courts concerning the linking of social media accounts of users with their Aadhaar numbers.
A Bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose scheduled the case for hearing on September 24.
“We will only be hearing on the question of transfer and will not look into the merits,” Justice Gupta said.
Facebook wants the apex court to transfer the pending petitions to itself and decide them finally. The company has contended that any rule to enforce the linking of Aadhaar with social media accounts would be an invasion of privacy, which has been affirmed as a fundamental right by the Supreme Court.
The Bench made the Centre a party to the proceedings. Justice Gupta said the court wants to know whether the Centre was working on any law on linking Aadhaar or an authentic government identity proof with social media accounts. It would decide the transfer with an eye on the government’s plans in this regard. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre, hinted that the apex court itself should decide the case. Mr. Mehta said the high courts were taking too long.
The court informed Tamil Nadu Additional Advocate General Balaji Srinivasan that the State’s application to modify an August 20 stay of proceedings in the Madras High Court regarding Aadhaar-social media accounts linking would be tagged with the transfer petition and heard along with it on September 24.
The Tamil Nadu government, in a written response to Facebook’s plea, went on the offensive against the social media company, contending that the concerns voiced by the company in the Supreme Court about citizen’s privacy flew in the face of its own “primary business model” to commercialise users’ data.
Facebook and WhatsApp have strongly objected to Aadhaar linkage, asserting that it would affect the privacy of its users. It said a nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court had upheld privacy as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution.
But Tamil Nadu has countered that the “whole attempt” of Facebook was to “evade compliance with Indian law”.
As proof, the State sought to show how the Chennai Police’s Cyber Cell had sent social media companies 1,940 requests for information in connection with various investigations between 2016-18. Among these, 885 requests were sent to Facebook, 155 to YouTube and 11 to WhatsApp.
All that the State Police got in reply was the IP (Internet Protocol) log details on 484 requests including 211 sent by Facebook, four by YouTube, one by Twitter and none by WhatsApp. Tamil Nadu said that the companies had refused to part with information in 1,456 cases.