Sunday, February 5, 2023

Delhi HC Held Rival Politicians Cannot Claim Privacy Behind Curtain Meetings As Public Interest Involved

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The Delhi High Court on Tuesday dismissed a plea of former AIADMK Rajya Sabha member Sasikala Pushpa for permanent injunction restraining the social media giants and the government from publishing of distributing photographs or audio messages concerning her behaviour.

The former MP filed a suit alleging that few photographs were leaked in the media wherein she was shown along with a man in a private garden of the house. Another photograph portrayed  the plaintiff with the said man inside a room and also shows half eaten food and an empty bottle of water. Another photograpgh depicted man sitting on a chair and holding a cell phone with the plaintiff bending behind him and pointing something in the phone, again in a private garden of a house.  

The aforesaid suit was filed against Facebook Inc., Google LLC, YouTube LLC, Union of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and Union of India, Department of Telecommunications, for

(a) permanent injunction restraining not only the defendants but other persons from publishing, broadcasting, distributing or disseminating in any form whatsoever any defamatory material ―including the purported photographs/video/audio messages relating to or arising from, in connection with any alleged acts or behavior relatable to the plaintiff; and,

(b) mandatory injunction directing the defendants and all others to remove/delete the false, concocted and fabricated photographs/videos/audio messages or any other material aforesaid.

The counsel for the plaintiff during the hearing informed, though again not pleaded, that the man shown in the photographs along with the plaintiff belongs to Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Party, a political rival of AIADMK Party to which the plaintiff belongs and is a member of; that the plaintiff is married to another person. The counsel for the plaintiff further fairly agreed that though the photographs did not qualify as obscene but contended that they were in the circumstances of the political rivalry and the plaintiff being married to another man, qualify as defamatory and pose a threat to the membership of the plaintiff of Rajya Sabha as a nominee of AIADMK.

Facebook Inc. USA in its reply pleaded that Facebook Inc. is an intermediary as defined under Section 2(1)(w) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and has no role in sharing, transmitting, selecting the receiver of any transmission and/or selecting or modifying the information contained in any information of third party.

Google LLC in its reply said that it  is a free internet based search service using which any internet user can search for any pre-existing third party data and websites available on the internet; to do so, an internet user can type its search query in the ‘search box’ and based on such a search query, the Google Search Engine indexes and links to third party websites and other information that either images or is relevant to the search query. It merely performs the task of indexing information that is already available on independent third party websites that are beyond its control and supervision.

Acting upon the plea, the single judge bench of Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, observed that the plaintiff is a politician, participating in the electoral process and is a representative of the people, the people and/or the electorate certainly have a right to know that the plaintiff behind closed doors meets and hobnobs a man to whom she is not married and particularly a man who belongs to a political party which is a rival of political party to which the plaintiff belongs.

Also, The plaintiff, as a representative of people and whether performing executive function or functions as a Legislator, would be issuing orders / directions and/or participate in law making, regulating the conduct of human beings and in the said context the electorate has a right to know of the behind curtains meetings of the plaintiff with a man other than her husband and particularly a man belonging to a political party which the plaintiff, before the public criticises or opposes in the elections.

If such meetings with member of a rival political party, which the plaintiff wants to remain hidden from the public, are not of interest to the public for the purposes of maintaining purity of administration and law making, little else would qualify as of public interest.

The High Court further observed that The plaintiff, of course cannot be permitted to publically oppose and criticise a political party to whose members she is otherwise close.  Or, at least public has an interest in knowing the true state of affairs. For the said balancing act, no trial is required, particularly when the plaintiff, in the plaint, has not even pleaded the said arguments.

Thus, in the facts of the present case, the public interest in knowing the meeting of the plaintiff at her residence with a man belonging to a rival political party far outweigh the private interest of the plaintiff of keeping the same hidden from public eyes.  The plaintiff has not pleaded the public interest in her said meetings and/or in keeping the same hidden.

The Delhi High Court dismissed the suit with costs payable equally to Facebook Inc. on the one hand and Google LLC and YouTube LLC together on the other hand, of Rs.2 lacs each.

-India Legal Bureau

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