In what could be a problematic situation for Facebook and Google, a petition filed against allowing those below 18 years of age to register on social networking sites has been passed on to the government by the Delhi High Court.

The Delhi High Court has asked the centre to explain how it has been allowing children below 18 years to open accounts on social networking sites such as Facebook and Google+.

Trouble on the horizon?

Trouble on the horizon?

A Division Bench of Justices B.D. Ahmed and Vibhu Bakhru have given the government 10 days to respond after counsel for petitioner, the former BJP leader, KN Govindacharya, accused the sites of not verifying the details of its subscribers. The court has posted the matter on May 13 for further hearing.

Lawyer Virag Gupta, arguing for Govindacharya, said the agreements entered into by minors on Facebook and the likes violated the Indian Majority Act, the Indian Contract Act and the Information Technology Act. According to a PTI report, Govindacharya also asked the court to “ensure proper accounting compliances as per RBI guidelines.

Facebook’s gross revenue for previous year was $37 billion approximately but they are not paying due taxes to the Indian government,” the report says quoting from the petition. Facebook already is embroiled in cases around the world over the legitimacy of more than eight crore accounts, where users had given false identities at the time of registration. Gupta noted that since last year, when the number was released by Facebook, the figure might have increased.

The lawyer argued that not having a ‘Know Your Customer’ regulation for social-networking websites, like for verification of mobile subscribers and bank account holders, poses a grave security risk to India. The lawyer also raised the now-familiar issue of invasion of privacy by Facebook saying that user data was being taken away to the company’s US-based servers for commercial use.

Worryingly for Facebook, some cyber law experts believe that the petition does hold some merit. “Creating a false electronic record is an offence under the Information Technology Act and the Indian Penal Code. Under Section 465, the offence would attract punishment up to two years’ imprisonment and if the account so opened is used for the purpose of cheating, it would be punishable with a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment,” cyber law expert Pavan Duggal was quoted as saying by The Hindu.

Children “openly lying about their age to create accounts on these websites” were likely to face potential legal exposure and could be prosecuted under the IPC and the IT Act, he added. “Any contract with a minor is null and void under the Indian Contract Act,” Duggal said.

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