Updates from the Supreme Court: Facebook's transfer petition of the Aadhaar-social media linking case in the Madras HC.

August 20, 2019: A few weeks back, IFF intervened in an ongoing public interest litigation filed before the Madras High Court regarding linking of Aadhaar with social media accounts, as we explained in our previous post. This case has gained such importance due to the spectrum of issues no longer being limited to Aadhaar and social media linking, and it has also brought within its ambit big companies such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Google etc.

On August 13, the Supreme Court of India proceeded to hear a petition put forth by Facebook to transfer the case pending before the Madras High Court to the Apex court. The matter was adjourned, to be heard on August 19 but it was pushed once again to August 20 with continuing suspense on whether the case would be transferred, keeping everyone on edge especially with the next hearing in the Madras High Court scheduled for August 21.

Today, the case was listed as Item No. 13 in Court No. 13 before a division bench of the Supreme Court with Hon'ble Justice Deepak Gupta and Hon'ble Justice Aniruddha Bose, and the hearing continued for over 45 minutes. Arguments made were not purely limited to the transfer prayed for by Facebook but also included substantial arguments on encryption and the linking of Aadhaar. However, the judges made it clear that at this stage, the Court was only concerned with whether the petitions should be transferred and not with substantive merits of these cases. The Hon'ble Court agreed to examine these aspects as it issued notice to the respondents in the petition. While it did not restrain the Madras High Court from continuing hearings, it did direct that it shall not give any final orders. The next date for hearing before the Supreme Court is September 13, 2019.

Arguments were made by Senior Advocates Mukul Rohatgi for Facebook, Kapil Sibal for WhatsApp and the Attorney General of India, K.K. Venugopal representing the State of Tamil Nadu. Issues of the existence of cross purposes in the relief claimed by cases in the Madras HC and the Supreme Court, the magnitude of the impact of this case on global products such as Whatsapp, and even examples of the Blue Whale challenge as a justification for identification of originators were voiced.

The next scheduled date for hearing in the Madras High Court is August 21, for which IFF will be present. We have also prepared a response to Dr. Kamakoti's report which will be submitted to the court. As always, we will continue to update you with the happenings of the case while sipping the best filter coffee in Chennai.

Edit made on August 23, 2019: We had inaccurately described Ld. K.K. Venugopal as the, "former" Attorney General of India. This has been removed to reflect he continues to hold the post of the Attorney General of India. We regret the error which crept in due to the short timeline for publication of post made immediately after the court hearing.