The Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that new rules to regulate fake news, hate speech and anti-national activities on social media will be finalised by January 15, 2020.
While stating so, the Government told the top court that the move was not to invade the privacy of the citizens but that privacy is in balance with the national interest and sovereignty of the country.
The top court also transferred all cases pending at the Madras, Bombay and Madhya Pradesh High Courts, concerning a demand for sharing of decrypted data of social media profiles, to itself.
A bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose said the matter will be heard in January after the Centre formulates new guidelines on intermediaries.
The apex court was hearing Facebook’s plea seeking transfer of various petitions from different high courts to the Supreme Court.
Facebook had said that the transfer of cases would serve the interests of justice by avoiding the possibility of conflicting decisions from the high courts. The social media giant told the apex court that two petitions had been filed in the Madras High Court and one each in the Bombay and Madhya Pradesh High Courts.
All the pleas in the High Courts have sought a direction that Aadhaar or any other government-authorised identity proof should be made mandatory to authenticate social media accounts.
Representing the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the top court that terrorists cannot claim the privileges of privacy.
He said no intermediary can claim to be so safe and secure that it cannot provide details of terrorists and anti-national people and protect them.
Attorney General KK Venugopal told the court that government does not want to crack down on encrypted social media traffic to control crime, but expects help from online platforms to facilitate access.
The Centre had on Monday informed the Supreme Court that the entire process of finalising the laws on regulating social media will be completed by January 2020, while seeking three months more time for notifying the final revised rules in accordance with the law.
In an affidavit, the Government submitted that the Electronics and IT Ministry has drafted the Information Technology Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules 2018, and published the entire draft for public comments on its website on December 24, 2018, requesting suggestions and objections from concerned stakeholders and the public.
The Centre further in its submission said that the internet has emerged as a potent tool to cause “unimaginable disruption” to democratic polity.
On September 24, the top court had observed that technology had taken a “dangerous turn” and asked the Centre to apprise it within three weeks about the time-frame needed to come up with guidelines to curb misuse of social media in the country.
Expressing serious concern over some social media platforms not being able to trace the originator of a message or an online content, the apex court had said the government must step in now.
The Supreme Court had earlier asked the Centre to clarify whether it was contemplating framing guidelines or putting in place a framework for linking social media accounts of users with their Aadhaar.
(With agency inputs)