Govt's decision to hire pvt agencies to manage their social media accounts questioned in HC

Ex-BJP ideologue K N Govindacharya on Thursday raised question in the Delhi High Court about the government's move to hire services of private social media management agencies to manage their accounts in social networking sites such as Facebook, saying it endangers creations of fake accounts and cyber crimes.

PTI| Updated: Sep 11, 2014, 18:38 PM IST

New Delhi: Ex-BJP ideologue K N Govindacharya on Thursday raised question in the Delhi High Court about the government's move to hire services of private social media management agencies to manage their accounts in social networking sites such as Facebook, saying it endangers creations of fake accounts and cyber crimes.

Govindacharya has also sought stay of the decisions of "many ministries, including the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD), which have issued tenders for appointment of management agencies for the operations of government social media accounts".

The affidavit in this regard was filed by him before a bench of justices Badar Durrez Ahmed and Siddharth Mridul which had earlier observed that "use of internet services, which transfers public data to offshore locations, concerns the integrity and sovereignty of the country" and had questioned the Centre "why public records should go outside India".

The affidavit, filed through advocate Virag Gupta, has also alleged "there exist multiple parody and fake accounts of government departments, ministries, MPs and other organizations on Facebook and other social media network, and yet the government has failed to implement compulsory usages of digital signatures for opening of social media accounts, which may not only stop such misuse but also reduce or put a stop to many frauds and cyber crimes."

The affidavit was filed in pursuance of the court?s direction on August 1 to the petitioner to file by way of an affidavit his allegation that social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, are being used by government officials and ministers for official purposes in violation of the Public Records Act.

It has come in the wake of the Centre's submission on August 1 that it has formulated a draft e-mail policy restraining government officials from using services of offshore internet service providers for official purposes which would be placed before the Cabinet at the earliest for approval.

The affidavit has also accused the government of

"extending illegal financial gain" to social media sites like Facebook by "surrendering all rights on public records".

The affidavit has also alleged that as per social media industry estimates, around 30 per cent of such accounts in India are fake and are being used for unlawful activities and influencing the political decisions.

He also alleged "national interests are being jeopardized due to large-scale snooping since the data (of these sites) is stored in servers outside India, which is violative of the Public Records Act" and has sought quashing of "all such agreements signed by government officials for opening of official social media accounts."

"Most of the fake users operate anonymously to indulge in cyber-crimes thus causing irreparable loss to society and many of them use Facebook as platform to promote militancy, terrorism, rave parties, drugs and child bullying and other abuses which are serious criminal offences attracting exemplary punishment.

72-year-old Govindacharya has also alleged in his affidavit that as per the tender floated by the WCD Ministry, the social media management agency has been given a target of followers to be achieved which could result in creation of fake accounts and this in turn would lead to "unlawful financial gains to social media sites" as their main source of revenue is advertisements which depends upon the number of users.

"Thousands of communal disturbances and riots have taken place due to anonymous Facebook posts which, besides posing a huge financial liability also burdening the police and enforcement agencies but Facebook failed to take steps to ensure proper due diligence for user verification," the affidavit has alleged.

The petitioner has contended that "huge expenses are being incurred due to rising cyber-crimes which culminate in losses to innocent citizens but there exists no effective provision for compensation due to lapses of social media companies, like the polluter pays principle" and has sought that there be guidelines for compensation which is applicable on social media sites.

"Operation of official social media accounts issued by WCD and other ministries may kindly be stayed till social media companies change the terms of agreement as per Indian laws and comply with fiscal statutes," the affidavit has said.

Govindacharya has also alleged the websites evade taxes and make public the personal details of Indian users, including minors below 13 years of age who are being allowed to use Facebook.

He has alleged that "under the pretence of free services to Indians, the private respondents are capturing huge volume of data, including public records and thus monopolizing operations in the Indian economy".

The court had on the last date of hearing also asked the Centre to make a "categorical" statement on the issue of payment of service tax by websites, including Google and Facebook, for their commercial operations in India.

The affidavit has been filed by Govindacharya, alleging that websites evade taxes and make public the personal details of Indian users.

The plea has also sought a direction to ensure safety of the data of 140 million Indian users which are transferred "to the US and is being used for commercial gains in violation of the right to privacy."