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Government to issue advisory over usage of social media

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NEW DELHI: The government is expected to issue an advisory/circular with respect to government usage of social media over the internet.

This was indicated by additional solicitor general Sanjay Jain in the Delhi High Court during the hearing of a public interest litigation by former Bharatiya Janata Party leader K N Govindacharya challenging the use of private American-based sites such as Yahoo and Gmail for sending out government information.  

Jain said, "Service categorised as sale of time and space for advertisements over Internet was earlier in negative list but with effect from 1 October 2014, it has been put back on the positive list and is now a taxable service."





He said that he would on the next date of hearing on 28 November  make a categorical statement with respect to taxation issue raised in the petition.

Meanwhile, the Court has asked why the use of private email accounts like Yahoo and Gmail by government officials should not be stopped as it would lead to public/official records being taken outside the country which is a violation of the law.



Justices Badar Durrez Ahmed and Siddharth Mridul said, "Public records are going outside India. Are you (Centre) willing to say there is no difficulty in government documents going to US servers? You should stop usage of non-NIC email accounts by government officers.





"On the one hand we are complaining against National Security Agency (of US) snooping and on the other hand, we are allowing it (public records) to go out."

The court, however, took on record the submission of additional solicitor general (ASG) Sanjay Jain that "immediate steps will be taken to ensure there is no violation of Public Records Act with a view that all electronic official communication is not taken out of India, insofar as email communication of public records is concerned".





The ASG also submitted in court that a draft email policy of the government has been finalised for presentation before the Cabinet in two to three weeks, and it only needs approval of the minister concerned.





The submissions were made in response to the query regarding the status of the government's email policy and what would be the interim measures that would be put in place to prevent official records from going outside India till all the government departments are provided accounts in servers run by National Informatics Centre.





The ASG also said that they have increased capacity of NIC servers to handle one million accounts from the earlier limit of five lakhs and would be further expanding the same.





The Court agreed with contention of advocate Virag Gupta, appearing for Govindacharya that the Public Records Act does apply in the present case. "You cannot have it (public records going outside India), its against the law," the bench said to the ASG.





Govindacharya in his PIL has sought that the government be directed to use only NIC servers for sending official emails, instead of using the services of foreign sites like Google and Yahoo.





The petition has contended that government departments like Delhi Police and the Indian Railways are not entitled to create accounts on social networking sites.

It has also sought recovery of taxes from the websites on their income from operations in India.





The petition has also alleged that the sites have no mechanism for protection of children from online abuse, claiming that children below 18 years are entering into 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.





Facebook and Google had earlier submitted affidavits in the court detailing the protective measures available on their sites to ensure their product is not misused. They had said their statement of rights and other terms and conditions prohibit 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 petition 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. 

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