Companies running social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp etc. cannot shy away from providing law enforcement agencies with the details of users on their platforms on grounds of privacy if the agencies approach them with a proper order from a court of law. This will be part of the norms for social media that will be formally released by the Indian government soon. There is already a tug-of-war of sorts happening in the USA between technology major Apple and the law enforcement agencies there with the company declining to break into Apple’s iPhones of persons being probed by the agencies.
Apple says it cannot break the privacy it had promised its users, one of the strong points due to which its products sell more in the market.
In the case of the social media networks too, the stand taken by them is that they have assured their members that the personal data will not be shared or revealed. The issue crops up, when there is undesirable information shared on these platforms and the police have no way of apprehending the persons behind spreading such news or information. Some people get trolled on social media and the identity of those trolling cannot be established since they use false names. In such cases, the law enforcement agencies have to ask the companies to reveal the details of the individuals. The new rules to be framed will force platforms like Twitter to reveal the identity once the law enforcement agencies carry an order to that effect from a Magistrate Court or higher.
The rules will apply to those social media organisations that have 5 million subscribers or more. Almost all the major sites like Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter, ShareChat and TikTok will get covered in this.
Experts point out that the government will frame the rules in the backdrop of the landmark Supreme Court judgement of 2017 which is known as the Puttaswamy judgement. The essence of this judgement is that the government needs to declare a specific objective for collecting personal data, the authorities ordering this and, what procedures it will follow.
The nodal ministry for framing these rules is the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), but the Law Ministry will be co-opted in the exercise to ensure the rules are not challenged in a court of law.
One of the conditions imposed will be that the social media site administrators will have to obtain the telephone numbers of their users and institute a mechanism to check the numbers every year. The government and the agencies hope that the fact that they may be traced back will at least restrict the habitual offenders from repeating their harmful acts.
There is also the insistence on the companies whether Indian or foreign to open a physical office in India and have a nodal officer.