The Supreme Court today said it was “very strange” that internet majors were objecting to making public certain recommendations in a report of a panel set up to explore technical solutions to block videos of sexual offences on social sites. The apex court said there was “nothing secret” about the recommendations as representatives of the internet majors such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook and instant messaging application WhatsApp had attended the meeting and discussed the issue. “This is very strange. One of the discussions is about the Ministry of Home Affairs making an expert group which had given recommendations on women and child safety. You are objecting to it. It is amazing,” a bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit said. “During the discussions, 17 people were there. So there is nothing secret about it,” the bench observed.
The bench was informed by the chairperson of the apex- court appointed committee that the internet firms had raised objections on certain portions of the report from being made public. The bench then sought to know from the counsel appearing for these firms the reasons behind their objections. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for WhatsApp, told the bench that the proceedings should be held ‘in-camera’ and they would satisfy the court about the query raised by it.
Sibal and senior advocates A M Singhvi and Siddharth Luthra, appearing for other companies, said they should be given copy of the report. The bench said the proceedings in the case would be held in-camera and asked the advocate-on-record of the parties to give the list of persons who would attend the hearings. The court also asked these companies to file affidavits indicating the reasons for objections.
The companies also sought time to file affidavit giving details of complaints they had received from across the country about the objectionable contents concerning child pornography, rape and gang rape from 2016 till August 31 this year and the action taken on them. The bench asked them to file the affidavit in two weeks and posted the matter for hearing on October 23.
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. The committee chairperson had earlier told the court that there were several aspects on which no consensus was arrived at during the deliberations.
The apex court had observed that the panel 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 are 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.