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Aadhaar-social media linking: All you need to know

Aadhaar-social media linking: Facebook has been resisting the move of linking user profiles with Aadhaar, as it would violate the privacy policy of users.

Aug 22, 2019 10:09 IST
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Aadhaar-social media linking

Aadhaar-social media linking: The Supreme Court on August 20, 2019 stressed on the need to find a balance between the right to online privacy and the right of the state to trace originators of messages that are fake, defamatory or aim to spread panic.

The Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Ghose expressed concern over the dangers of the dark web. The bench’s observations came in response to the submissions made by Attorney General KK Venugopal appearing on behalf of the Tamil Nadu Government about the need to link user profiles on social media platforms with the Aadhaar database.

The Tamil Nadu Government had told the Supreme Court on Monday that the user profiles on social media need to be linked with Aadhaar to keep a check on the circulation of fake, defamatory and pornographic content as well as anti-national and terror material.

However, social media platforms, particularly Facebook have been resisting Aadhaar linking, stating that sharing of 12-digit Aadhaar number would violate the privacy policy of users. The facebook-owned messaging platform, WhatsApp will be one of the worst-hit if the Aadhaar-social media linkage is approved by the court, as the messaging platform is known to be a space for private conversations online.

How did Aadhaar-social media linking case originate?

The original PILs seeking Aadhaar-social media interlinking were filed by private citizens Antony Clement Rubin and Janani Krishnamurthy for authentication of identity. Both the petitioners sought Aadhaar linking to social media profiles due to rising instances of cyberbullying, spreading of defamatory and humiliating messages and other intolerable activities on social media. The cases were registered in the Madras High Court.

What is the Tamil Nadu Government’s take on the case?

Attorney General KK Venugopal appearing on behalf of the Tamil Nadu government stated in the Supreme Court that Aadhaar-social media linking is needed to keep a check on fake news and defamatory, anti-national and terror-sponsoring articles or content and pornographic material on social media. Venugopal also referred to the Blue Whale game, which had reportedly claimed the lives of several children in India. The game was declared as a hoax by the central government and the Kerala Cyber Police.

Why is Facebook resisting Aadhaar-social media linking?

Facebook has been resisting the move of linking user profiles with Aadhaar, as the social media platform feels that it would violate the privacy policy of users. Facebook also stated that it cannot share the 12-digit unique Aadhaar number as the content on its instant messaging app, Whatsapp is end-to-end encrypted and even they do not have access to it.

Why is Facebook seeking transfer of cases demanding Aadhaar-social media linking to the Supreme Court?

Facebook sought transfer of four petitions, two in Madras High Court and one each in the Bombay and the Madhya Pradesh High Courts on Aadhaar-social media linking to the Supreme Court stating that all the pending cases raise the same issue and that it was difficult for it to defend itself before high courts across the country. Facebook stated that transfer of all the cases to the apex court would be in the interest of justice, given the fact that the different High Courts have given conflicting observations in the case. The social media platform stated that avoiding conflicting decisions in the matter is necessary to ensure that users across India are given equal privacy protection.

What happens if certain courts rule in favour of Aadhaar-social media linking and others don’t?

The conflicting decisions by the four courts could lead to a situation where the social media platforms, which operate uniformly across India, will be ordered to link Aadhaar with user profiles in certain Indian states and not others.

What happens if user profiles on social media platforms are linked with their Aadhaar number?

The linking of user profiles on social media with Aadhaar would make every message and post by the user traceable. Though the move will serve as a deterrent to social media instigators and perpetrators of defamatory and fake posts, it would also violate the privacy of the users, keeping a record of each message along with the registered mobile number or email account. This would mean the end of private communications. The privacy experts fear that the linking would allow India’s nationalist government to force social media platforms to become surveillance tools.

What will happen to those who don’t have Aadhaar or who don’t link Aadhaar to their social media profiles?

It is unclear as of now of what will happen to those who don’t link their social media accounts to their 12-digit Aadhaar number. Will their accounts be deleted or blocked? It is also unclear what action will be taken against parody accounts of users. Users also have concerns that if a tweet they did years ago suddenly goes viral out of context then will all the people who shared it also get investigated or punished or will their accounts be deactivated?