Aadhaar-Social Media Profile Linking: SC To Hear Facebook's Plea; Issues Notice To Google, Twitter And YouTube

Aadhaar-Social Media Profile Linking: SC To Hear Facebook’s Plea; Issues Notice To Google, Twitter And YouTube

Judiciary

The Supreme Court on August 20, 2019, has agreed to hear Facebook’s plea seeking transfer of cases related to demands for linking of social media profiles of users with Aadhaar number to itself.

The cases are pending before the High Courts of Madras, Bombay and Madhya Pradesh.

A Bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose has issued notice to the Centre, Google, Twitter, YouTube, and others and sought their response by September 13, 2019.

The apex court on August 19, 2019, was told by Attorney General K.K. Venugopal appearing for the Tamil Nadu government that social media profiles of users need to be linked with Aadhaar numbers to check the circulation of fake, defamatory and pornographic content as also anti-national and terror material.

He said the government found it a challenge to trace the ‘originator’ of such online content. The services of social media platforms, which were used to circulate such content, was the need of the hour. “We do not have the mechanism to find out the originator…We cannot have people commit crimes.”

Facebook, on the other hand, is resisting the state’s suggestion on grounds that sharing of 12-digit Aadhaar number, the Biometric Unique Identity, would violate privacy policy of users. Moreover, it was also argued that it cannot share the Aadhaar number with a third party as the content on its instant messaging WhatsApp was end-to-end encrypted and even they do not have access to it.

On the question of transfer of cases, Facebook said that it was difficult to defend itself before multiple High Courts across the country considering the questions being discussed were similar. As the questions being asked were similar, Facebook had requested that the plea be heard by a single legal entity, the apex court.

“Transfer would serve the interests of justice by avoiding the possibility of conflicting decisions from the four common cases. Indeed, avoiding conflicting decisions is particularly necessary here to ensure that users are afforded equal privacy protections across India, and to prevent the infeasible situation where the Petitioner, which operates a uniform platform across India is ordered to link Aadhaar information for users only in certain Indian states but not others,” the petition states.

This has reopened the privacy debate. Especially considering the Supreme Court judgment in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) And Another v. Union of India and Others wherein the top court had held that Aadhaar linking wasn’t mandatory, except in certain cases such as receiving government subsidies or linking to PAN card. The apex court had also ruled that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for obtaining a mobile connection and for opening bank accounts.

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