SC allows Madras High Court to hear social media-Aadhaar linkage matter concerning Facebook

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the social media Aadhaar linking matter concerning Facebook to be continued to be heard in the Madras High Court but it directed that no judgement should be passed by the Madras High Court in the matter. The matter is coming up in the Madras High Court on Wednesday and will be heard in the Supreme Court again on September 13.

Social media giant Facebook was seeking a 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 the Aadhaar number.

The transfer petition seeking transfer of four cases from different high courts to Supreme Court was listed before Supreme Court bench of justice Deepak Gupta. Attorney general KK Venugopal appeared on behalf of the state of Tamil Nadu. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal appeared for WhatsApp and Facebook was represented by senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi. KN Govindacharya who had filed impleadment in the matter was represented by advocate Virag Gupta.

"The court has said that the hearing in the Madras High Court may go on but no final judgement should be passed," attorney general KK Venugopal said.

"The notices have been issued for the transfer petition. Our submissions remain the same," said Tejas Karia, Facebook's counsel told ET.

Two writ petitions were filed in the Madras High Court in July 2018, praying for the interlinking of Aadhaar with social media accounts for identity authentication purposes. The court then expanded the petition to include issues like ‘curbing cybercrime and intermediary liability’ in the proceedings.

The Supreme Court will issue notices to centre and social media entities including YouTube, Google and Twitter on Facebook's plea for the transfer petition of a public interest litigation for linking Aadhaar to open an account so that the originator of the message can be found out.

Senior advocate Sibal argued that since their platform was a global product, how could the high court decide on the issues, and that when the matter is pending with the government, the high court should not be allowed to decide.

Attorney general KK Venugopal argued that the matter in the Madras High Court is to be concluded soon and a judgement could come in a month's time.

Seeking impleadment, advocate Virag Gupta submitted that Facebook and other social media companies do not want to come under the jurisdiction of Indian law and constitution and that is why they are challenging the authority of the IIT Professor, the Madras Police Commissioner as well as the Madras High Court. He submitted that in the KN Govindacharya matter, the Delhi High Court had passed various orders, which have yet not been complied with in true spirit, but they show that the high courts have jurisdiction in such matters.

He finally submitted that these present transfer petitions are a ploy to delay the main proceedings before the Madras High Court.