Facebook must appear before Delhi assembly riots panel, says Supreme Court [9.7.2021]

Facebook must appear before Delhi assembly riots panel, says Supreme Court

9th July, Thursday

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday held that Facebook must appear before a Delhi assembly committee to respond to queries regarding its role and other aspects of the February 2020 Delhi riots, as it emphasised that the social media intermediary cannot escape responsibilities after becoming a “power centre” that can “polarise public debates” and “influence vast sections of opinions”

“Facebook cannot excuse themselves from appearing pursuant to the new summons issued to them on February 3, 2021... Facebook is a platform where political differences are reflected. They cannot wash their hands off the issue as this is their very business,” said the bench, headed by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul.

At the same time, the court clarified that the peace and harmony committee of the Delhi assembly cannot become a “prosecuting agency” which can hold people guilty and order filing of charge sheets in the riot cases. The Facebook executive will be at liberty not to answer questions relating to law and order and police, while such a refusal cannot lead to any coercive step by the assembly, said the bench, which also included justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy.

The bench dismissed the petition filed jointly by Facebook and Facebook India head Ajit Mohan against the summons issued to Mohan by the Delhi assembly committee, which is headed by Aaam Aadmi Party MLA Raghav Chadha, noting that the committee had authority to seek attendance of “non-members” of the assembly as well and to ask them to depose on oath on a subject within its jurisdiction.

Underlining that Delhi assembly was as good as any other state assembly, with the only exception of absence of legislative powers on land, police and public order, the top court rejected Facebook’s contention that it cannot be compelled by any committee of the parliament or the state assembly to participate in an inquiry and that its move to appear before a parliamentary panel last year on information technology was a “business decision”.

09 Jul 2021