On 26 September 2018, the SC held the Aadhaar Act, 2016 to be constitutionally valid for the statutorily limited purpose of improving the delivery of State welfare schemes. Most petitioners in that case complained that Aadhaar was likely to become the lynchpin of a massive State and private surveillance machine. This week that complaint reached the Supreme Court.
 
Last month on 31 July, Facebook sought the transfer of four writ petitions pending before three High Courts to the Supreme Court. These petitions arose in varied circumstances: In TN, animal rights activists Antony Clement Rubin and Janani Krishnamurthy sought to overcome anonymous online abuse by linking e-mail and social media accounts with Aadhaar or other government identity proof. The Madras High Court expanded the scope of petition to include the Whatsapp message traceability case at the request of the police. Advocate Sagar Suryavanshi petitioned the Bombay High Court to bar paid election advertisements 48 hours before elections. This July, Advocate Amitabh Gupta moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court to direct Facebook to verify users’ accounts with government IDs such as Aadhaar. 

These cases will redraw the application of Aadhaar, social media regulation and permissible State and private surveillance. Singapore's recently enacted a fake news law primarily focuses on the legal obligations of internet service providers and websites and empowers the government to correct online content. No legal regime currently requires social media companies to authenticate individual accounts or trace messages to originators. Will the claimed ease of Aadhaar authentication encourage the Supreme Court to make surveillance on an Orwellian scale possible?  

Best,
SC Observer Desk

 

(This post is extracted from our weekly newsletter, the Desk Brief. Subscribe to receive these in your inbox.)