Should Social Media Accounts Be Linked to Aadhaar Numbers?Supreme Court Considers the Issue, Seeks Feedback
India's Supreme Court has agreed to consider social media giant Facebook's request that the apex court review cases now pending before several state high courts regarding linking social media profiles to Aadhaar numbers in an effort to help curb the spread of fake news.
Facebook is fighting states' efforts to compel it and other social media companies to link Aadhaar numbers to accounts, citing privacy concerns. The states believe that making such a link would help curb fake news by helping to trace the origin of messages.
Facebook's position represents a change from its stand during the recent Indian elections, when it required that users posting content related to elections or national security verify their identity by sharing either their drivers' license, passport or PAN card to help curb the spread of fake news.
After Facebook presented its views to the Supreme Court Tuesday, the court asked for comments from other social media companies by Sept. 13.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that mandating the linking of Aadhaar to an individual's bank accounts and mobile numbers was an unconstitutional violation of the right to privacy. So privacy considerations will be key as the court considers the social media issue.
The States' Views
Tamil Nadu Attorney General K.K. Venugopal made the case for linking social media accounts to Aadhaar numbers at a Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday.
"The linking of social media profiles of the users with Aadhaar is needed to check fake news, defamatory articles, pornographic materials, anti-national and terror contents in the online media," he told the court, Firstpost reports. "We do not have the mechanism to find out the originator... We cannot have people commit crimes."
Some privacy advocates, however, argue that linking Aadhaar numbers to social media accounts could lead to inappropriate government surveillance.
"By having the Aadhaar number of social media users, the government will be able to track all of us," says Chetan Singh, a Pune-based cyber consultant. "The prime minister in a recent speech had said that the government must refrain from interfering in the private lives of its citizens. How is this not an interference?"
Others argue that instead of linking Aadhaar to social media accounts, the government should enact a law designed to curb fake news.
"India needs to strongly come across amending Section 79 of the IT Act to make these service providers more responsible for the content they host on their sites," cyber law expert Pavan Duggal told a news outlet. "The new law could spell out that when a social media company becomes aware of false news, they are duty liable to remove the content within a few hours. And if they do not do so, they have criminal liability."
A proposed bill to modify the Information Technology Act, 2000 to make social media companies that handle consumers' data more responsible for the content they host is still pending in Parliament.
Mumbai-based Vicky Shah, a cyber lawyer, says government officials should devise another way of tracing the originators of fake messages that doesn't involve using Aadhaar numbers.
"By sharing Aadhaar, the government will be able to cut down of fake profiles, but not really trace the originator," he argues.
Instead, the government should force the social media companies, especially Facebook's WhatsApp encrypted messaging service, to have a time stamp on a message, Shah says. The mobile number, as well as the date and the time of the person who has first created/posted a particular message, should be timestamped or displayed in every message going forward/shared," he says. For instance, if Person A writes a message which gets forwarded several times, then Person A's details must be there at the end of the message irrespective of the number of times it gets forwarded. This will help trace the originator of the message. This will address all your accountability and traceability issues"