Social media accounts need to be linked with Aadhaar to check fake news, SC told

Facebook Inc said 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.. Photo: Mint

NEW DELHI: Social media profiles of users need to be linked with Aadhaar numbers to check circulation of fake, defamatory and pornographic content as also anti-national and terror material, the Supreme Court was told on Monday.

The suggestion was made by the Tamil Nadu government which is facing resistance from Facebook Inc on the ground that sharing of 12-digit Aadhaar number, the Biometric Unique Identity, would violate the privacy policy of users.

Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the state government, said: “The linking of social media profiles of the users with the Aadhaar was needed to check fake news, defamatory articles, pornographic materials, anti-national and terror contents in the online media.”

He said the social media giant claims that its Whatsapp messages are end-to-end encrypted but there is a Professor from IIT who says that the originator of a message can be traced.

The top law officer, opposed a plea of Facebook seeking transfer of cases pending before the high courts of Madras, Bombay and Madhya Pradesh to the apex court seeking linking of social media profiles of users with Aadhaar number.

Facebook Inc said 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.

A bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose said that it will hear the plea on Tuesday, as it needs to go through the documents and transfer petition filed in the case.

Venugopal said that hearings in two cases before the Madras High Court were at advanced stages and 18 hearings have taken place so far.

“The case is now listed on August 20. It will be better if the court allows the proceedings to go on before the High Court. This court will have a benefit of a comprehensive judgement in case the matter comes up in appeal before it,” he said.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Facebook, said the question is whether Aadhaar can be shared with a private entity or not.

He said that an ordinance has been promulgated, which says that Aadhaar can be shared with a private entity, if there was a larger public interest involved.

“Different High Courts are making various observations and it will be better if all these cases are transferred to the Supreme Court, as all these PILs case have more or less same prayers,” Rohatgi said.

He further said that Tamil Nadu police is saying that Aadhaar number should be used for linking user profiles.

“They cannot tell us, how to run our platforms. We have end-to-end encryption on Whatsapp and even we don’t have access to the content. How can we tell them what is the Aadhaar number. We also have to take care of the privacy of the users”, Rohatgi said.

Advocate Virag Gupta, appearing for former RSS ideologue KN Govindacharya, said that he has filed an application seeking to be made a party in the matter.

The bench said that first it would have to decide whether the impleadment application should be allowed or not in the matter.

Gupta said that Delhi High Court has passed several directions related to the issue and he can apprise the court in the matter, which relates to verification of social media users.

To this, bench said that it needs to go through the documents and deferred the hearing for August 20.

Facebook has contended that there are four petitions including — two in Madras High Court, one in Bombay and one in Madhya Pradesh High Courts — and they contained almost similar prayers.

It said, “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 protection 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”.

[“source=livemint”]