Facebook withholding information in criminal cases, alleges Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu on Thursday approached the Supreme Court (SC) seeking that the Madras High Court (HC) be allowed to hear and pass orders on Facebook’s petition to transfer all its cases to the apex court. 

Last month, the social media company had moved the SC seeking to get all cases related to linking of Aadhaar number to social media profiles pending before various high courts to the apex court. A two-judge Bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose had agreed to hear the matter. Though the top court had said it would not stop the Madras HC from hearing the matter, it had directed that no final orders should be passed in the case. 

This, Tamil Nadu said in its plea filed on Thursday, had effectively meant a stay on proceedings in the HC despite the SC having refused to entertain the stay petition. Alleging that Facebook had incorrectly stated in its transfer petition the stage in which the cases were pending in various high courts, the state has in its plea before SC said if the case was not heard expeditiously, firms such as Facebook would continue to operate without following the country’s laws.

“In this regard, it may be noted that the local law enforcement authorities have attempted to seek information from these companies for the investigation and detection of crimes on several occasions. These companies, instead of replying and providing information in a bona fide manner, have asked the authorities to send letters rogatory etc, despite operating on Indian soil, and have in all cases failed to provide complete information,” the state said. 

Listing 34 such cases where Facebook or its subsidiary WhatsApp had refused to provide information citing one reason or the other, Tamil Nadu has said if the SC did not modify its earlier order in which it had asked the HC not to pass final orders, “the people of Tamil Nadu will suffer grave and irreparable harm and injury”.

There are several public interest litigations filed in the case, with the earliest being moved before the Madras HC in July 2018. 

In its transfer petition, the social media giant had said it was difficult for it to defend itself before HCs across the country. The HCs had given conflicting observations in the case, and it would be in the interest of justice if the SC heard all the cases at one place, it had said.

There have been several public interest litigations (PILs) filed in the case, with the earliest being moved before the Madras HC in July 2018. The petitioner, Antony Clement Rubin, had sought directions from the court to ask the government to make it mandatory to link Aadhaar or any other government authorised identity proof for authentication of social media profiles. Other similar PIL sought that Facebook should seek some sort of government-authorised identity before allowing any person to open an account on its platform.

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