Centre for Internet & Society

The Supreme Court’s move to look into the petition regarding the linking of social media accounts with Aadhaar has opened a pandora’s box.

The blog post by Swathi Moorthy was published by Moneycontrol on August 20, 2019. Pranesh Prakash was quoted.

The Supreme Court’s move to look into the petition regarding the linking of social media accounts with Aadhaar has opened a pandora’s box.

Linkage with Aadhaar will not help in curbing fake news and may also end up weakening the Aadhaar legislation, experts said.

The petition initially filed in Tamil Nadu argues that linking Aadhaar with social media accounts will help keep in check fake messages, pornographic and anti-national and terror messages in check. Similar petitions were filed in Mumbai and Madhya Pradesh.

Facebook and WhatsApp have argued against the proposal, stating that such a move will violate user privacy and asked for all the cases to be transferred to the Supreme Court.

Hearing the pleas, the Supreme Court said that it will examine the case and has asked both the parties to submit responses by September 13.

Weakens Aadhaar legislation

Pavan Duggal, Supreme Court advocate specialised in cyberlaw, told Moneycontrol, “Linking Aadhaar and social media accounts is a violation of Right to Privacy, which is a fundamental right and raise questions about India’s sovereignty and integrity.”

“Given that we do not have a data privacy and protection law as yet, it will also weaken Aadhaar legislation,” Duggal added.

Facebook or any social media for that matter store their data overseas since data localisation is not mandatory as of yet. The draft data protection and privacy bill, which mandates storage of local data within the country, is yet to be placed before the Parliament.

At this juncture, linking Aadhaar with social media accounts would mean that Aadhaar data will be stored in data centres in other parts of the world, compromising integrity of Aadhaar, Duggal pointed out.

Fake news

Pranesh Prakash from Centre for Internet & Society, asked, “How does linking Aadhaar and social media accounts curb fake news?” He explained based on the SC's previous judgement, Aadhaar's scope is restricted to the government's benefits and subsidies.

Duggal said, “There is no way it is going to help curb fake new.” If anything people who are starting fake news will be more careful so as not go get caught, he added.

Prakash pointed out that, all social media accounts can be traced either using their phone numbers and email linked to their account or IP addresses.

As such, there is no need to link Aadhaar specifically for this purpose since police are free to use these tools to trace offenders, he added. The exception is that when users are sophisticated and have knowledge of advanced tools to hide their identity, which is usually not the case for most purveyors of fake news.

What can be done?

Duggal said that there are so many other ways of dealing with fake news. For one, this could be opened up for public discussion.

“We could have a dedicated legal framework like in Malaysia for curbing fake news that is much more efficient than linking Aadhaar," he added.

According to Duggal, the platforms should be more proactive rather than being a mere spectator and take stringent steps to fight fake news.

The government can also amend Section 79 of the Information Technology Act that protects intermediaries from being liable for any third party information data or communication link hosted on their site. Changing this will also help combat fake news, he added.

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