Facebook India moves supreme court against Delhi assembly panel summons
Facebook India and its vice president and managing director Ajit Mohan moved the Supreme Court on Tuesday, challenging the September 10 and September 18 notices issued by the Delhi assembly’s peace and harmony committee that sought Mohan’s presence before the panel that is probing the Delhi riots and the role of the social media firm in alleged hate speech.
The petition said that the subject matter under investigation by the Delhi assembly fell within the exclusive domain of the Union government and a state legislative assembly could not compel witnesses to appear and provide evidence on such subjects.
“The Committee seeks to compel petitioner No. 1 (Ajit Mohan) to provide testimony on subjects within the exclusive domain of the Union of India. Specifically, the Committee is seeking to make a ‘determination of the veracity of allegations levelled against Facebook’ in the Delhi riots, which intrudes into subjects exclusively allocated to the Union of India,” the petition said.
The plea also contended that the summons violates the right of the petitioner to remain silent and his right to privacy, which are fundamental rights. “By targeting Facebook – a platform that allows users to express themselves – the summons create a chilling effect on the free speech rights of users of the Facebook service,” the plea added.
The case will be heard by a three-judge bench headed by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul on Wednesday.
Mohan was first summoned by the committee for its meeting ofSeptember 15 in connection with complaints alleging deliberate omissions and inaction by the social media company in removing hateful content and posts. The committee earlier said that in its meeting of August 31, it prima facie found Facebook India was allegedly complicit in aggravating the communal violence in north-east Delhi in February that left at least 53 people dead.
Notice was issued to Facebook officials on September 10 based on that finding, asking them to appear before the panel on September 15, but Facebook officials failed to appear for the meeting. A second notice was issued on September 18.
In its summons issued on September 18, the committee said that it was empowered to make suggestions to the central government and it was in line with cooperative federalism which “encompasses a large number of areas including making recommendations to the union government when the same is required”.
The committee is investigating the matter based on several complaints received from the public after an article was published in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on August 14.
The WSJ report titled “Facebook hate speech rules collide with Indian politics” alluded to the role allegedly played by top Facebook officials, particularly its public policy head Ankhi Das, by citing business imperatives to refrain from applying hate-speech rules to at least four individuals and groups linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), though the groups and individuals had been internally flagged for promoting or participating in violence.
In a letter to the social media company recently, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Facebook’s India team was dominated by people who “belong to a particular political belief” and have acted against users “supportive of the right-of-centre” ideology.