By Joshi ChaturvediLawyers often go to extraordinary lengths to secure the expertise of their clients, and that was the case with Ravi Srivastava, a Mumbai-based lawyer who was one of the first lawyers to take on a case that went viral when it was filed against a Facebook executive in the US.
The case was a bizarre and high-profile one, with a slew of claims against Mr Srivasta, including allegations of fraud, copyright infringement and racketeering.
But as his client went public, it raised eyebrows among the legal community, as well as the broader public.
The US-based technology giant had already paid $US1.5 billion ($2.8 billion) to settle the case, but the court order forced the company to pay back more than $US3 billion to settle allegations of copyright infringement.
The court order was based on a legal theory known as the “stalking clause”, which allows internet service providers to charge customers for monitoring and blocking specific content that violates their terms of service.
But the case has been interpreted by some to be an example of the stalking clause being used to censor internet speech.
The stalking clause is rarely used as a weapon in criminal cases, but it has been used against political dissidents and anti-establishment groups to restrict free speech and internet freedom.
“This is a case where a company, in the course of trying to comply with its obligations under the terms of its service, has decided to go on an offensive in a way that violates the rights of its customers,” Mr Sravastava told Business Insider.
“If it’s a case of harassment and it’s targeted against somebody, the court will not hesitate to impose sanctions against the company.”
The stalking clause has been employed by companies for decades to try to silence critics and dissenters, and the legal system is no different.
But while the stalking clauses were once used to silence people, it is now being used against those who criticise them, and it has a chilling effect on free speech.
“The stalking clauses are not about the abuse of power, but rather about restricting speech, which is why I believe the courts have the power to protect citizens from these kinds of abuses,” Mr Chaturvesi told Business Wire.
For Mr Chait, the stalking is more than a mere legal argument.
“[The stalking] was a weapon of choice to harass someone,” he said.
This is what the stalking law is all about, it’s not about how you should dress, it doesn’t have to do with what kind of clothes you wear, it has to do to try and silence a political figure or critic.
It was also an attempt to silence the voice of the accused, the law professor told Business WI.
If you can’t silence that voice, then what are you going to do?
“The stalker clause is the epitome of this kind of abusive behaviour, it gives them an excuse to go after anybody who they believe is an adversary,” he added.
Mr Chaturvas argument in the case was that the stalking of Mr Sraavastava was an attempt by Facebook to intimidate him, and thus prevent him from speaking out about what he knew.
But the court ordered Facebook to pay the US$US3.9 billion ($4.9bn) to Mr Savastavas victims.
It’s not clear how Facebook came to be in the position to pay so much money to its customers, but Mr Chavas arguments are also likely to raise more questions about how Facebook is regulated.
Facebook did not respond to Business Wire’s request for comment.
While the stalking case has a long history of legal controversies, Mr Chaunvesi thinks it has its roots in a different kind of stalking law, which has been around for centuries, and is called the “statutory harassment clause”.
“The statute harassment clause was developed around 1882, and was introduced by the US Supreme Court in response to the First National Bank of New York v.
United States, a case involving an individual who was a political dissident,” Mr Ravi said.
“This was a case about how it would be illegal to interfere with the free speech rights of a political critic, which was the same as the First Amendment, which meant that if you tried to intimidate people on the basis of political opinions, you would be liable to be found liable under the statute harassment clauses.”
The law was designed to prevent the government from interfering with people’s free speech, and therefore prevent people from being harassed by others.
However, this was a different era and the stalking laws in place at the time were more focused on criminal offences.
“It was in the late 19th century, so they wanted to try a different approach and make it a crime to threaten to interfere in the free political speech of someone,” Mr Jairaj said.