On September 19, Antony Clement Rubin, the animal activist whose petition in Madras High Court started the WhatsApp traceability case, petitioned the court to amend his original prayer — remove all mention of Aadhaar and instead, ask for “mandatory linking of any government approved/authorized identities” to social media accounts for the purposes of traceability.
If this application for amendment is approved in the High Court hearing today, it may potentially weaken Facebook’s transfer petition that is pending before the Supreme Court. Facebook has petition the apex court to transfer 4 petitions from 3 different high courts as they all deal with Aadhaar-social media linkage.
The hearing was scheduled to take place on September 19, but the matter was not listed. Instead, the matter is listed before a new division bench comprising Justices M. Sathyanarayanan and N. Seshasayee in Court Room 5 today. In all probability, the hearing will be adjourned as the Supreme Court has restrained the Madras HC from passing any “effective orders” until it decides on the transfer petition. The next SC hearing is scheduled for September 24.
Linking Aadhaar to social media accounts had emerged as a bone of contention, given the Supreme Court’s judgement on Aadhaar. As a result, the Madras High Court division bench had dismissed the possibility of any such linkage in 2018 itself, and instead expanded the scope of the case to consider intermediary liability of social media platforms, and how such companies cooperate with law enforcement agencies in crime prevention. To this effect, the HC had impleaded Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, YouTube and Twitter in October 2018.
Why Rubin filed the petition
Rubin, a victim of cyberbullying, had filed the petition in 2018, along with fellow animal activist Janani Krishnamurthy, “to address the undue hardship endured by the general public, particularly the younger generation girls and boys, owing to the rising instances of humiliation, disgrace and defamation caused to them through cyber-bullying and other intolerable activities on social media”.
In the original petition, Rubin had beseeched the court “to declare that linking of Aadhaar or any one of the Government authorized identity proof as mandatory for the purpose of authentication while obtaining any email or user account”. However, the other part of Rubin’s original petition, that sought to link “Aadhaar or any one of the Government authorized identity proof” hasn’t been addressed in 25+ hearings. Instead, the case has largely focused on whether traceability, or finding the originator, is technically possible for WhatsApp.