New Delhi: The Central government on Thursday backed Facebook, whose executives had refused to appear before a Delhi Assembly house panel, in the Supreme Court, saying the panel lacked any jurisdiction to summon them to depose before it.
“Public order and police are not in their domain. Hence, it is beyond their jurisdiction,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told a bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul in a statement, which seemed to back Facebook in its row with the Delhi government.
The bench said it would address all the complicated legal issues involved in the case during a final hearing which begins on December 2.
In the interim, it has extended its order asking the panel not to insist on the appearance of the Facebook executives before the Peace and Harmony panel.
The committee had asked Facebook India’s executives to explain the social media giant’s acts of omission and commission in allegedly spreading fake news and hate speech leading to riots in East Delhi earlier this year.
After the executives repeatedly refused to appear before it, the panel warned the social media platform of initiating a privilege motion against it. This prompted Facebook India to move the top court for relief. The bench has since asked the panel not to insist on their appearance.
The panel, through senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, on Thursday clarified that the notice issued to the executives were more in the nature of summons to depose as expert “witnesses” before it so that it could frame guidelines to prevent misuse of the platform in future.
No coercive action was intended, he said.
Facebook reiterated that it had the right to be silent in any such probe.
Senior advocate Harish N. Salve said that Facebook executives cannot be compelled to go before the panel. “We are an American company. We don’t want to comment. Our policies are not for you.”
“Facebook is a platform. It doesn’t write anything,” he said, dismissing the charges of spreading disharmony.
Salve had earlier said that the company had deposed before a parliamentary committee on the same subject and did not believe that the Assembly panel had any right to summon its executives.