Govindacharya PIL: Facebook, Google Cannot Flout Indian Laws Because They Are Foreign Companies

In a latest hearing of Govindacharya’s PIL, the Delhi High Court has said that Facebook and Google are bound by the rules of this country, and cannot flout the law because they are foreign companies

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The Govindacharya PIL is heating up. In a latest hearing of Govindacharya’s PIL on Friday, the Delhi High Court has said that Facebook and Google are bound by the rules of this country, and cannot flout the law because they are foreign companies, reports the Times of India.

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The world’s largest social networking giant and the world’s biggest search engine have been directed by the court to display the names and contact details of the grievance officer on their respective sites. As per Information Technology (Intermediaries) Rules, all social networking sites must publish the name of a grievance officer and their contact details.

“Just because you are a foreign company, you cannot flout the law. Like us, you are bound by the rule of law of this country,” the court said.

Additionally, the PIL has also alleged that government departments like Delhi Police and the Indian Railways have created accounts on social networking sites, despite these departments not being entitled to do so under the law.

PIL going places

The PIL – filed this April by KN Govindacharya, a former BJP ideologue and RSS patron – focussed on the safety concerns related to Indian minors accessing Facebook, among other issues involving social networking sites. That issue, however, remains far from being solved; meanwhile other issues have cropped up.

While the PIL had demanded the social networking sites to come up with measures to stop the misuse of sites by Indian minors, the counsel for the site had varying defences. Earlier the courts had directed the sites to display a bold message on the home page, stating that children under 13 cannot open an account, despite it already being present in the Terms & Conditions while registering an account.

The sites had argued that they operated under COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), an American law to protect minor children. As per Indian IT laws, there isn’t a mandate to put up such a disclaimer. The PIL had then pointed out that minors cannot get into an agreement, under the Indian Contract Act 1872. What measures were being taken to protect Indian minors?

Facebook also argued that access to social media is also a human right, citing the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council that had declared access to the internet as a human right last year. The networking giant maintained that access to Facebook and other social networking sites helps in overall development and social behaviour of users, including minors.

Govindacharya had suggested Facebook and other social networking sites to go the telecom way, by arguing that just as it is mandatory for telecom companies to verify the age of a subscriber, so it should be mandatory for social networking sites too.

However the sites stated that physical age verification isn’t possible and children lying about their age to get into social networking sites are the responsibility of their parents or legal guardians.

While the idea of having the name and contact details of a grievance officer displayed on each site makes sense and is a much required feature, the fight based on archaic laws is irrelevant. Moreover, the PIL needs to be clear under which Indian law, government departments like Delhi Police and the Indian Railways cannot create accounts on social networking sites?!

The PIL, however, does throw light on lapses in the Indian IT laws, and these need to be worked upon as a priority, along with bringing in more awareness on Internet Safety Education programs for students, an IAMAI and Facebook initiative that will train children, teachers, Child safety NGOs and parents on how to reap maximum benefits from internet while not compromising on their safety and security.

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