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The State of Tamil Nadu has moved an application in the Supreme Court seeking orders to ensure that the Madras High Court is allowed to continue hearing the social media companies case concerning the traceability of online crimes.
Last month, the Supreme Court had issued notice in a plea fled by Facebook to transfer the matter before the Madras High Court, and allied cases before other High Courts, to the apex Court. While adjourning the matter to September 13, the Supreme Court had also directed that no final or effective orders should be passed by the High Courts in the meanwhile.
Consequently, when the case came up for hearing before the Madras High Court a day later on August 21, the Division Bench took a call to adjourn the matter until September 19, observing,
“We are of the view that when the Hon’ble Supreme Court is seized of the matter regarding transfer, propriety demands to wait till the Hon’ble Supreme Court decides the transfer petitions, returnable on 13.09.2019.”
This was despite strong objections raised by the State of Tamil Nadu, through Advocate General Vijay Narayan, who argued that the Supreme Court had specifically ordered that the High Court may continue hearing the matter, even though it may not pass any final orders for the time being.
In the application filed today through Advocate General Vijay Narayan and Additional Advocate General Balaji Srinivasan, the State of Tamil Nadu has further highlighted that the Supreme Court had expressly rejected a plea for staying the High Court proceedings in its earlier order passed on August 20.
Further, Facebook’s move to transfer the case from the Madras High Court has also been challenged on the ground that the petitioner had misrepresented an idea that the case primarily revolves around prayers to link Aadhaar and social media accounts. In this regard, the application states,
“The Transfer Petition filed before this Hon’ble Court is replete with false and misleading averments, in a blatant attempt to misguide this Hon’ble Court for oblique motives. While the Transfer Petition proceeds on the sole premise that the cases in the Madras High Court relate to mandatory linking of social media accounts with Aadhaar, it was a matter of record that the Court was only proceeding to ensure effective compliance with the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the Rules framed thereunder, and also for the perception and detection of crimes.“
In its application, the Tamil Nadu Government has also presented statistical information in its application to argue that social media companies have not been responding satisfactorily when it comes to requests made by law enforcement agencies to investigate online crimes. In this backdrop, the Tamil Nadu Government contends,
“Being aware of this non-compliance and failure to cooperate with the law enforcement authorities by the Petitioner and other companies, the Hon’ble High Court has proceeded to create a consultative process wherein stakeholders are heard and a satisfactory resolution can be reached, and that originator information can be traced by the authorities.
The failure of these companies to comply in the past and unwillingness to comply in the future, is the sole reason that the instant transfer petition has been filed.”
While this is the case, the applicant also states that the matter before the Madras High Court was ripe for final hearing.
“… all pleadings have been concluded and all parties have decided a joint plan of future action under the aegis of the Hon’ble High Court.“
Further, it is argued,
“In the absence of expeditious disposal of the instant matter, foreign companies such as the Petitioner would continue to operate in India without complying with or submitting to India law, the effect of which as evidence is increased lawlessness, greater difficulty in preventing and detecting crimes, and overall breakdown of law and order.“
In view of these concerns, the State of Tamil Nadu has prayed that the Supreme Court modify its earlier order passed on August 20 so as to facilitate case hearings in the Madras High Court. The matter is due to come up in the Supreme Court tomorrow.