Google Inc and Facebook Inc were on Friday directed to display on their websites the name and contact details of grievance officer to deal with complaints by the High Court which observed that ‘they cannot flout the law just because they are a foreign company’.
The court also sought the Centre's stand on the petitioner's allegation that Delhi Police, Indian Railways and others have created accounts on social networking sites despite government departments being barred from doing so under the law.
The court said the Information Technology (Intermediaries) Rules mandate that all social networking sites have to publish the name of grievance officer and his contact detail.
"Just because you are a foreign company, you cannot flout the law. Like us, you are bound by the rule of law of this country," the bench comprising Acting Chief Justice B D Ahmed and justice Vibhu Bakhru said, while asking the the Centre to take steps to ensure that the social networking sites comply with the Rules.
"We direct Google Inc and Facebook Inc to display the name of grievance officer on their respective sites.
“We also direct other intermediaries that the compliance (of the Rules) be done in two weeks," it said.
The court's direction came on a PIL filed by former BJP leader K N Govindacharya alleging that the websites have no mechanism for protection of children from online abuse.
He also submitted that government departments like Delhi Police and the Indian Railways are not entitled to create accounts on social networking sites.
The petitioner's counsel, Virag Gupta, argued that as per the rules, the Grievance Officer of the concerned website has to send an acknowledgement within 36 hours of receipt of any complaint and has to act upon it within 30 days.
He contended that, at present, the websites neither disclose the name of grievance officer nor give his contact details, which is violative of law.
Senior lawyer Arvind Nigam, appearing for Google, submitted that the website has a dedicated cell and also a team to deal with grievances 24 hours a day but the site has not given the name of any officer.
"Google has gone little beyond and has robust mechanism to deal with the complaints," Nigam said.
The bench, however, was not happy with his argument and said, "You have to give the grievance officer's name. That is the law. You cannot take law into your own hands."
The petitioner's counsel also argued that the government departments are not entitled to open any account on the social networking sites under the Public Records Act.
"Since Google and Facebook are keeping the data in their US servers, the public records are transferred outside the country...," the lawyer said.
The public interest litigation contended that children below 18 years are entering an agreement with the social networking sites to open accounts which is against the Indian Majority Act, the Indian Contract Act and also the Information and Technology Act.
It has also sought recovery of taxes from the websites on their income from operations in India.
Earlier, Facebook and Google had submitted affidavits in the court detailing the protective measures that are available on their sites to ensure their product is not misused.
They had said their statement of rights and other terms and conditions prohibits children below 13 years of age from registering an account and creating more than one personal account.
They had said they also have strict policies in place to delete any objectionable or misleading content they come across on their sites.
The petitioner in his plea has alleged that due to non-verification of users, more than eight crore of Facebook users across the world were found to be "fake", which the website admitted before a US authority.
He said government was not taking any action against the foreign companies which have their Indian operations.