Shajeeda O.M Tajdeen, (LLM), S.N.D.T University
The Apex Court on Monday ordered all the Internet majors in the country like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, YouTube including WhatsApp to provide it with all the details of complaints that have been received by them pertaining to uploading of objectionable material on rape, gang rape and child pornography.
These Internet biggies are required to submit all the details of such material which were received by them till 31st August 2017, along with the previous year’s details. Apart from submitting the records the Apex Court has also asked them to provide the details of the measures which they undertook to solve such complaints.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was ordered by the Supreme Court’s Bench comprising of Justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit to enlighten it with the actual quantity of prosecution which were registered during the above mentioned period under the the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012.
The Apex Court stated that it wants all the joining companies like Yahoo, Microsoft, Google India, Google, Facebook and WhatsApp etc. to furnish affidavits mentioning the number of grievances which were received from India alone, in the previous year and till 31st August 2017, which contained offensive materials about gang rape, rape and child pornography along with the set of efforts undertaken by such companies to solve such complaints.
This decision of the Apex Court was pronounced after hearing a letter which was addressed to the then Chief Justice of India, H L Dattu by a Hyderabad based NGO- Prajwala, which also contained two pen drive having rape videos in it. It was after the occurrence of this incident, the top most court of the country found the need to take cognisance of the letter on its own, by asking the CBI to initiate an investigation with a view to capture the offenders.
The committee which was constituted to investigate the technical solutions to curb offensive videos on all the social networking sites, consisting of members from the Centre and the Internet majors informed the Apex Court on Monday, that these companies object to disclose their reports in the public domain. The Court was informed about the objections by the Chairperson of the Committee. The lawyers appearing on behalf of the internet firms have asked for the copy of the panel’s report which has been submitted in the court, to be provided to them in a sealed cover, because, due to the lack of consensus at the deliberations there were many aspects which were left undecided.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, who represented one of the companies, stated that they were unaware of the contents of the committee’s report and thus they require a copy of it, in order to become familiar with the report. He also contended that they have the right to know the recommendations which were to be brought before the public domain, by the Committee. It was after hearing his arguments, the Court ordered that the recommendations along with the proposals be provided to all the counsel’s representing the participating companies within a period of three days and has subsequently posted the matter on board for hearing on 18th September 2017. The MHA has also been asked by the Court to file its affidavit in another two weeks’ time.
The petitioner’s advocate stated the response of the companies was undesirable and it was the main reason which was causing delay in this matter. The lawyers also declared if confidentiality was creating hindrance, the proceedings of the case could be held in- camera.
The CBI’s cyber security officials, had told the bench that internet was an ‘wild highway’ and curbing of the objectionable material at the source itself was a technical challenge which could not be won, if there were no clear guidelines issued to stop such circulation.
The Court was also informed by the Centre that it would come up with a specialised agency which would only work to curb the sharing of offensive videos on the social networking portals. The letter had also proposed the concept of maintaining a separate register which shall contain the details of the convicts involved in offences like stalking, molestation, eve-teasing and other sexual assaults. The MHA was also advised by the NGO to have tie-up with WhatsApp and YouTube to make it certain that such videos containing objectionable content are not uploaded and if at all they are circulated then the offenders could be punished.
This matter not only deals with circulation of offensive materials but is also connected with outraging a woman’s modesty in the public domain. The decision of the Apex Court would altogether bring a new set of regulations which would cater to protect and preserve the dignity of woman in the society.