- Recently the Supreme Court of India has upheld the authority of a committee of the Delhi Assembly to summon a senior official of Facebook.
- This verdict of the supreme court is an extremely nuanced recognition of the extent of powers of State Assemblies in matters regulated by an Act of Parliament.
- The question about the powers arose when Facebook’s India vice-president was repeatedly summoned by Delhi Assembly’s Committee on Peace and Harmony on the subject of the Delhi riots of 2020.
- Facebook then argued before the Supreme Court that this was a case of overreach and that Delhi’s law and order came under the central government.
- Similar position was also taken by the central government, which argued that the Delhi Assembly had no jurisdiction in this matter as the social media platforms are governed under the IT Act of Parliament.
SUPREME COURT’S JUDGMENT
- In it judgment the Court not only upheld the summons but also stated that-
- “The Assembly does not only perform the function of legislating, instead there are many other aspects of governance which can form part of the essential functions of the Legislative Assembly and consequently the committee.”
- Hence, pointed out that the “inquisitorial” and “recommendatory” powers of a House can be used for better governance.
- Simultaneously, the court also cautioned the committee from “transgressing into any fields reserved for the Union Government”.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE JUDGMENT
- The verdict comes amid a long phase of discordance over legislative turf between the central government and the Delhi government.
- It also comes at a time when social media intermediaries are legally fighting some aspects of the new IT rules that govern them.
- Thus, their responsibility toward the many legislatures will only become more heightened because of this verdict.
- The Court refused to buy the argument that social media intermediaries are “merely a platform for exchange of ideas without performing any significant role themselves”.
- Rather it then linked what happens in these platforms to the real world.
- The Court said that the misinformation on social media has “a direct impact on vast areas of subject matter which ultimately affect the governance of States”.
- Despite the constraints of the powers of the Delhi Assembly vis-à-vis law and order, the Court found that its committee could still summon the Facebook India official without encroaching upon the turf of the Centre.
- Thus opening the gates for scrutiny of social media platforms by other States, which however have significantly more powers with respect to law and order. Hence, setting the stage for more scrutiny.