“The US authorities are unable to “execute” the request for assistance in serving summons to 11 US-based websites, including Facebook and Google, accused of promoting class enmity and undermining national integrity,” told by the Ministry of Home Affairs to a court here in Delhi.
The Ministry of Home Affairs told Metropolitan Magistrate Jay Thareja that they have received a communication dated March 20, 2013 from the US Department of Justice according to which they cannot execute the request as it “implicates free speech principles” which are protected as per the US Constitution.
“Pursuant to the treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in criminal matters between the United States and India (the Treaty), we regret to inform you that we will not be able to execute this request for assistance…. as the request implicates free speech principles that are protected by the US Constitution and are considered essential interests,” the letter received by the US authorities said.
The court on January 8 had issued fresh summonses against 11 US-based websites, which have been arrayed as an accused in the complaint filed by Vinay Rai and had directed the MHA to get the process served upon them. The MHA placed before the court the communication received from the US authorities in this matter.
The US authorities, in its March 20 letter, have informed that, “as previously discussed, the first amendment to the US Constitution provides for broad freedom of expression and as a result prohibits criminal prosecution of speech except in narrowly defined circumstances.”
“Upon review of the information available to us, the request implicates free speech principles that are protected by our Constitution and that are considered essential interests. Article 3 of the treaty allows for the denial of a request where its execution would prejudice essential interests,” the US authorities said.
The court has now fixed the matter for further proceedings on May 21.
The US authorities have also informed the MHA that they will not be able to assist with the execution of the request without additional information being provided to them.
“As you know, there are limits to our Constitution’s protections on free speech, such as when the speech comprises a true threat or incites imminent violence. In this case, there has not been a sufficient showing in this regard. “If there are other facts pertaining to this matter that have not been included in this request, e.g. information indicating an endangerment or threat to Indian lives, we will gladly consider them,” according to it.
The letter further said that “although we are not in a position to provide the evidence sought in this matter, the strong bilateral relationship we enjoy bodes well for the successful execution of other request.”
Earlier, advocate S P M Tripathi, who appeared for Rai, had submitted in the court the forms, required to be filled up as per the prescribed norms of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the USA and India.
The websites named in the complaint filed against them for allegedly committing offences like those of selling obscene materials to the youths and hatching criminal conspiracy include Facebook, Orkut, YouTube, Yahoo, Blogspot, Google and Microsoft.
The Centre had earlier told the court that there was sufficient material to proceed against the websites for the alleged offences. The court had on December 23, 2011 issued summonses to 21 social networking websites on the complaint.