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Online extortion case: Uttarakhand High Court imposes fine of Rs 50000 on Facebook

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The Uttarakhand High Court imposed a Cost of Rs Fifty Thousand on Facebook for failing to file Counter Affidavit on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking direction to the respondents to frame guidelines to deal with cases of online extortion.

The PIL has been filed by one  Alok Kumar  seeking following relief:-
“1. Issue a writ order of direction in the nature of Mandamus, commanding the respondents to frame guidelines to deal with cases of online extortion, online abuse that particularly impact the younger generation. 
2. Issue a writ order of direction in the nature of Mandamus, commanding all the respondents to coordinate amongst themselves to operate a 24*7 effective helpline number to deal with cases of online abuse. 
3. Issue a writ order of direction in the nature of Mandamus, commanding the respondents to produce an action taken report before this Hon’ble Court on the number of complaints that they had received and how many of these complaints they have actually been able to redress. 
4. Issue a writ order of direction in the nature of Mandamus, commanding the respondents to give vide publicity to such helpline number across the length and breadth of the State of Uttarakhand to ensure that remedial measures are made aware even in the rural areas of the State.”  
The grievance of the petitioner is that someone has uploaded a morphed video, containing obscenity involving the petitioner, and the same has also been circulated.  

Abhijay Negi ,counsel for the petitioner , submitted that the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 have been framed by the Central Government in exercise of powers conferred by subsection (1), clauses (z) and (zg) of sub-section (2) of section 87 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 superseding the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, which obliged the publisher – which would include respondent no.6 (Facebook) to act in terms of the grievance redressal mechanism and self regulating mechanism contained in the aforesaid Rules. 

However, respondent no.6 has not acted in terms of the said grievance redressal mechanism and the complaint of the petitioner has fallen on deaf ears. Even though respondent no.6-Facebook was served in the year 2021 and the Vakalatnama on behalf of respondent no.6 was filed as early as on 27.10.2021, no counter affidavit has been filed till date , the Counsel alleged.

The division bench of Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Ramesh Chandra Khulbe observed that prima-facie, it appears that respondent no.6 is not complying with the aforesaid Rules, which are statutory in character and bind respondent no.6. 

While granting four weeks’ time to respondent no.6 to file its counter-affidavit, which should also disclose the steps taken by the said respondent to comply with the aforesaid Rules, the Court  subject to respondent no.6 to costs of Rs.50,000/- out of which, Rs.25,000/- shall be paid to the petitioner and the remaining amount shall be deposited with the Uttarakhand High Court Bar Association. The costs will be deposited within three weeks. It is made clear that no further time shall be granted for this purpose , the Court ordered.

The Bench has posted the matter on 16.02.2023 for further hearing.  

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