Delhi HC notice over tax recoveries from social websites
New Delhi: The Delhi High Court today sought responses from five Central ministries including Home Affairs and Finance on a PIL seeking action against various social networking websites and recovery of tax on income arising from their operations in the country.
A bench comprising justices B D Ahmad and R V Easwar also issued notices to the ministries of Law and Justice, Information and Broadcasting and the Department of Personnel and Training and asked them to file their responses within six weeks.
The court, which has now fixed the matter for hearing on April 9, had earlier issued notices to the Information and Technology Ministry, Facebook India and Google India on the PIL by former BJP ideologue K N Govindacharya seeking recovery of tax from social networking sites, arising out of their Internet-based business in the country.
In his plea, Govindacharya, currently patron of 'Rashtriya Swabhimaan Aandolan', also sought directions to the Centre and two websites to "ensure proper accounting compliances as per RBI guidelines".
The petition also sought a direction to ensure safety of data of 50 million Indian users, which were transferred "to the US and being used for commercial gains in violation of right to privacy".
"Issue a writ of mandamus ... To ensure verification of all existing users and future new members of social networking websites with instructions not to do agreements with children below 13 years," the PIL, filed through lawyer Virag Gupta, said.
A national register of persons, indulged in sexual offences and heinous crimes, be maintained and such persons be "refrained" from joining social networking websites, it said.
The petition, which chronicles violations of various terms by the websites, also sought a direction to the Centre to ensure that government officers do "not use social networking websites through office computers" as they may pose threat to sensitive data and national computer network.
"As per Telecommunication Minister's statement before Parliament, government lost 4 billion USD every year due to cyber crimes and approximately 90 million government websites hacked in last 3 years," the petition said.
In his PIL, Govindacharya said, "Facebook gross revenue for previous year approximately 37 billion USD but they are not paying due taxes on their Indian operations as per provisions of Double Tax Avoidance Agreement and government is not taking any action to safeguard the national interest and sovereignty of India."
It has also sought directions to the Centre to impose penalty on social networking sites and other Internet companies "for non-verification of users and to recover damages for causing huge loss to government and Indian economy due to anonymous users illegal operations through such sites".
Referring to a report of Mumbai ATS, the PIL said the accused of the July 13 blast in Mumbai last year were in touch with each other and the Indian Mujahideen operatives through Facebook since 2008.
"Facebook is one of prominent social networking website with more than 50 million Indian users and as per their own records approximately 5-6 per cent of their accounts are fake or being operated by anonymous users due to non-authentication of details by the company before opening of accounts as required by their terms of agreement," it said.
The Centre's KYC (know your customer) guidelines, applicable to telecom companies are not being followed by the social sites which is "causing the biggest security risk to nation", it said.
"As per reports, Facebook has further allowed account opening by children below 13 years of age who may be 1/3rd of their registered users just to exploit on line gaming market and increase advertisement revenue," it said.
According to Govindacharya, the plea is being filed to protect the interest of more than 1.5 crore Indian children who have joined Facebook against the terms of agreement and public policy.
The children are being exposed to "easy, free, convenient and anonymous" pornographic and objectionable materials which may lead to their exploitation, he said.