On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of India heard the pleas of Facebook Inc seeking the transfer of cases pending before Bombay, Madras and Madhya Pradesh High Courts, regarding the linking of social media accounts with Aadhaar. That’s right – the government wants you to link essential aspects of your life like @reddit_gurl23 and that secret Instagram account you have for posting ‘thirst selfies’, with your Aadhaar number.
Obviously, this carries massive privacy implications. Nobody wants their secret Reddit account used for validating their questionable relationship choices to be linked with their name, bank account details and mobile number. While this affects everyone, it could perhaps hold graver implications for those in certain professions: activists, journalists and lawyers stand to lose a lot if their content can be easily traced back to their address and other demographic data.
Our ‘WhatsApp Uncle’ of a government feels that the youth of the country are ‘addicted’ to the Blue Whale Challenge.
I’d guarantee that most of us would become extremely careful about what we post if we could be held directly accountable for it – or if we knew that our government (hypothetically) had a (hypothetical) IT cell that could track us down, and (hypothetically) was careless about leaking said data. This would lead to something called a ‘chilling effect’, impacting freedom of speech.
Does Govt Really Know Anything About ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ & ‘Dark Web’?
But more than that, why was this done? Why does the government care so much about our memes and jokes? Primarily, porn. No, I’m kidding – pornographic content is one of the reasons, but so is the circulation of fake news, defamatory content, and ‘anti-national’ material. Crime and terrorism were also cited as reasons for linking social media to the Aadhaar database, because as we all know, criminals and terrorists are powerless in the face of new laws and surely cannot use the Internet when this is done!
Nobody wants their secret Reddit account used for validating their questionable relationship choices, to be linked with their name, bank account details and mobile number.
Among all the reasons cited, the one that sparked the most ire was children’s apparent addiction to the ‘Blue Whale’ challenge. The challenge, for the older people in this audience, was a fake online ‘suicide game’, which apparently gave teenagers 50 tasks over 50 days, the ultimate one being to kill themselves. While the story caused considerable alarm, not a single suicide was proved to be linked to this challenge conclusively. The BBC called it a ‘creepy story’ that ‘blurs fact and fiction’ but ‘isn’t really there’, and the ‘game’ never gained traction in India.
However, our ‘WhatsApp Uncle’ of a government feels that the youth of the country are ‘addicted’ to the Blue Whale Challenge (which is absurd, because even if true, the ‘addiction’ would last beyond 50 days!) and thus, linking the Aadhaar to their social media accounts would somehow ‘solve’ this issue (?).
‘Gormint Uncle’ does not seem to have a strategy of dealing with new social media platforms or accounts that may come up.
Another reason given was the growth of the ‘Dark Web’. I put that in quotes because I can guarantee that nobody working for the Government of India who is pushing or advocating for this move, understands what the ‘Dark Web’ is, or how its accessed, because the ‘Dark Web’ is neither connected to social media accounts, nor requires their presence to access. Clearly, the government understands neither the Internet nor the people who use it — and is too uninformed to be pushing such policies.
How Does Govt Plan To Implement Linking Of Aadhaar With Social Media Accounts?
What is also unclear is the implementation. As this thread points out, several issues arise from this move.
- Will accounts not linked to Aadhaar be deactivated?
- How will they be traced?
- Are social media companies going to lose accounts (and thus revenue) over this?
- What are the repercussions over content posted which can be deemed ‘anti-national’ (which may include this article itself)?
Notwithstanding the problems with the Aadhaar itself, ‘Gormint Uncle’ does not seem to have a strategy of dealing with new social media platforms or accounts that may come up, and seems to be simply desperate to control something that is growing and spiraling out of control.
When Facebook Raises ‘Privacy’ Concerns, You Know You’ve Gone Too Far
In an ironic twist, Facebook is resisting this move on the grounds that it would infringe upon the ‘privacy’ of users. This may be a nuanced issue, but you know you’re on the wrong side of things when Facebook is telling you to tone it down because of ‘privacy’ concerns. This linkage would involve companies breaking encryption codes to provide data to the government, a scenario that can only be summed up as the introduction to a dystopian nightmare.
The Supreme Court has a long history of siding with the State when it comes to balancing security needs with civil liberties, and this may be no different.
What’s next? The government, along with Google, Twitter, YouTube and others is required to file a response before SC by 13 September, while hearings continue in the Madras High Court. Notice has been served over email, which is hilarious – we all know the only way to reach out to social media platforms is by tagging them on Twitter and doing an 8-tweet thread on it, so we can receive those automated responses from their social media interns.
Will ‘Gormint Uncle’ Bulldoze This Issue As A Bill?
In 2018, in the historical privacy judgment, the SC (theoretically) held the linking of Aadhaar to bank accounts and phone numbers as unconstitutional. This move, thus, rests on grounds shakier than your catfish account, but going by the recent judicial and government behaviour, it has a significantly better chance of succeeding. This may sound like an absurd idea today, but can well become law tomorrow.
The Supreme Court has a long history of siding with the State when it comes to balancing security needs with civil liberties, and this may be no different. If nothing, ‘Gormint Uncle’ is more than capable of bulldozing this as a Bill through the Parliament without any discussion, as they have with other laws. Time to turn to the ‘Dark Web’ for my next article, I guess.
(@secondofhername is an exasperated lawyer and an Internet denizen – everything the government is not. She also has two law degrees from Oxford (somehow). This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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