Facebook can't be compelled to answer on the issues of law and order, which are looked after by the central government, the Supreme Court said today as it asked the social media giant to appear before the Delhi Assembly panel in 2020 riots probe.
The Delhi Assembly committee has the "right to seek information on any matter related to peace and harmony without encroaching (the) domain of the central laws," the top court underlined.
A three-judge bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy delivered the judgement in the case after a petition was filed by Ajit Mohan, Vice President of Facebook, India. Mr Mohan had challenged the notice issued to him by the panel probing the Delhi riots.
The panel can't compel him to appear before it, Mr Mohan had argued, stressing that police and public order in the national capital come under the centre's purview, and he holds the right to remain silent.
The court made some sharp remarks as it insisted: "Delhi Assembly Panel cannot don the role of (a) prosecuting agency and direct the filing of (a) chargesheet. The statements made by the assembly panel about making Facebook a co-accused in the chargesheet are outside its scope. The statements are hardly conducive to the fairness of the investigation."
Facebook officials can choose to not answer questions as they appear before the panel, the court further underlined.
As Delhi government argued Mr Mohan had appeared before a parliamentary panel too, the central government backed Mr Mohan, and said the state assembly had "no power to issue notice, and Information Technology and laws relating to intermediaries fall within the domain of parliament."
Technological age has produced digital platforms and "these are uncontrollable at times," the Supreme Court observed today.
"Social media platforms have the power and potential to influence people across the border. Debates on these platforms, like Facebook, have the potential to polarise the society and less informed individuals may not verify the information and take it as gospel of truth," the court said, commenting on the role of social media.
There were several technical disruptions as Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul was reading out the judgement; he went offline a few times and his voice could not be heard.
More than 50 people had died last year in February after the groups supporting the contentious citizenship law clashed with those opposing it.