In a big move, Supreme Court today asked Union of India’s nodal agency to convene a meeting with all the stakeholders including Internet companies Google, Yahoo and Microsoft within six weeks to remove objectionable content pertaining to sex determination tests. Earlier in September, Internet majors like Google, Yahoo and Facebook and instant messaging application WhatsApp were directed by the top court to furnish details of complaints they have received in India about the uploading of objectionable content on child pornography, rape and gangrape.
The apex court had asked them to provide such details they received last year and this year till August 31 and also about the action taken by them on such complaints. A bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit directed the Ministry of Home Affiars (MHA) to apprise it about the number of prosecution under the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012, during this period.
“We would like the participating companies Google, Google India, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook and WhatsApp to place affidavits regarding number of complaints they have received from India about the objectionable contents concerning child pornography, rape and gangrape for the year and till August 31 and the action that has been taken on it,” the bench said. The court was hearing a letter sent to then Chief Justice of India H L Dattu by Hyderabad-based NGO Prajwala, along with two rape videos in a pen drive. The top court had on its own taken cognisance of the letter about posting of these videos on WhatsApp and asked CBI to launch a probe to apprehend the culprits. During the hearing, the bench was informed by the committee, comprising representatives from the Centre and the internet majors which was constituted to explore technical solutions to block videos of sexual offences on social sites, that these companies had some objection to its report being placed in the public domain.
Chairperson of the committee told the court that these participating companies have raised some objections, after which the lawyers representing the internet firms said they should be given the copy of the panel’s report which has been filed in the court in a sealed cover. He said there were several aspects on which no consensus was arrived at during the deliberations by the committee. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for one of the companies, said they would come to know about the content of the committee’s report only when they were provided with its copy. Sibal also argued that they wanted to know what were the recommendations which the committee wanted to place in public domain. To this, the apex court directed that the proposals and recommendations contained in the report be supplied to the lawyers representing the participating companies.
The court also had asked the MHA to file its affidavit in two weeks. The counsel for the petitioner alleged that this matter was getting delayed and the problem was the manner in which these companies were responding. On the issue of confidentiality of the report, the lawyer said if the court feels, proceedings could be held in-camera.
The apex court had earlier observed that the committee would hold discussions and meetings to arrive at a consensus on the possibility of ensuring that such objectionable videos pertaining to child pornography, gang rape and rape were not made available on the internet. Earlier, cyber security officials, who function under the CBI, had told the bench that internet was a “wild highway” and blocking objectionable content at the source was a technical challenge for which clear guidelines needed to be issued to stop circulation of such material. The Centre had informed the court that it would set up a specialised agency to block and curb the sharing of sexual offence videos on social networking platforms. The NGO’s letter had also mooted the idea of maintaining a national sex offenders’ register which should contain details of persons convicted for offences like eve-teasing, stalking, molestation and other sexual assaults. The NGO had also suggested that MHA should have a tie-up with YouTube and WhatsApp to ensure that such offensive videos are not uploaded and the culprits punished.