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HC directive to TN govt to hold meet with social media companies

Prime News, Nation, (Chennai), April 26:-The Madras High Court directed the Tamil Nadu government on Thursday to convene a meeting of law enforcement agencies and representatives of social media platforms next month to discuss issues relating to sharing of user data and how cyber crimes could be tackled more effectively.

A division bench of justices S Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad gave the direction after the counsel for the state government claimed that online messaging app WhatsApp was less responsive compared to other social networking platforms when it came to cooperation with law enforcement agencies.

The bench was hearing a plea moved by Anthony Clement Rubin seeking a direction to the Centre to link Aadhaar with e-mail IDs and other online user accounts, including those on social networking websites, for easier detection of cyber crimes.

Earlier, the counsel appearing for WhatsApp informed the court that it could not share the data of its users with the government as it was not available with the company owing to its end-to-end encryption policy.

“One of the reasons why WhatsApp is popular is because it respects user privacy. The company is permitted to function as such under Indian law. However, steps are being taken to minimise the abuse of the platform,” the counsel said.

Countering the submission, additional government pleader E Manoharan submitted that compared to other social media companies, WhatsApp was less responsive.

“The end-to-end encryption policy cited by WhatsApp only came about around 2017. Therefore, the company cannot claim it as a core feature,” he said.

Recording the submissions, the bench directed the Tamil Nadu chief secretary to convene a meeting of law enforcement agencies and representatives of social media companies between May 20 and 27 to discuss ways in which issues relating to sharing of user data could be resolved and cyber crimes could be tackled more effectively.

It also impleaded the external affairs ministry and directed it to process the visa and other formalities of the visiting representatives to enable them to attend the meeting.

The bench then posted the plea to June 6 for further hearing.

In a recent hearing, the state government had informed the court that even in sensational cases like the Pollachi sexual abuse case, WhatsApp did not cooperate with the law enforcement agencies.

Taking serious note of the submission, the bench had wondered why the government should not ban such a social media company if it was not adhering to the laws of the land.

The strong observation prompted the social media giants to approach the court to submit their version.

During the hearing on Thursday, senior counsel R Murari, appearing for Twitter, submitted that the company faced another peculiar problem.

“When it comes to Twitter users in the US, they are being operated by Twitter US. However, as far as users from the rest of the world are concerned, they are handled by Twitter International Corporation, which is based in Ireland.

“While this is the case, often the government’s requests for assistance are directed to the wrong Twitter entity,” Murari said.

-(NAV, Inputs: Agencies)

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