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Legal Regime Needs to Know Originators of Social Media Posts, Fix Intermediaries' Accountability: SC

The court was hearing a clutch of cases relating to the manner in which the intermediaries should provide information related to originators of messages.

Utkarsh Anand | CNN-News18

Updated:September 26, 2019, 8:31 AM IST
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Legal Regime Needs to Know Originators of Social Media Posts, Fix Intermediaries' Accountability: SC
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court has favoured fixing accountability of intermediaries such as WhatsApp and Facebook when social media is used to threaten integrity and sovereignty of the nation, or for hate speeches and pornography. A bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose heard the matter on Tuesday.

The court order, issued now, has underlined why it could be important to know details of the originators of messages on social media platforms.

"There are various messages and content spread/shared on social media, some of which are harmful. Some messages can incite violence. There may be messages which are against the sovereignty and integrity of the country," pointed out the court order.

It said social media has today become the source of large amount of pornography.

"Paedophiles use social media in a big way. Drugs, weapons and other contrabands can be sold through the use of platforms run by the intermediaries. In such circumstances, it is imperative that there is a properly framed regime to find out the persons/institutions/bodies who are the originators of such content/messages. It may be necessary to get such information from the intermediaries," emphasised the bench.

The court was hearing a clutch of cases relating to the manner in which the intermediaries should provide information related to originators of messages. Some of them submitted that they have end-to-end encryption and therefore, even the intermediaries are not in a position to find out the originator or content.

At this, the bench maintained that de-encryption, if available easily, could defeat the fundamental right of privacy and de-encryption of messages may be done under special circumstances but it must be ensured that the privacy of an individual is not invaded.

"However, at the same time, the sovereignty of the State and the dignity and reputation of an individual are required to be protected. For purposes of detection, prevention and investigation of certain criminal activities it may be necessary to obtain such information," stated the court order.

It also highlighted that although the guidelines provide that the intermediaries should furnish the information, "it is not clear how the intermediaries who are based abroad and do not even have grievance officer posted in the country, would be compelled to reveal this information”.

The apex court then directed Secretary, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, to file an affidavit within three weeks, placing on record the stage at which the process of framing/notifying the rules is.

"We also direct the Secretary to give definite timelines in respect of completing the process of notifying the rules," said the bench, fixing the matter for hearing next on October 22.

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