Underlining 43 keywords relating to pre-natal gender tests, the Supreme Court Monday directed Internet search engines Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to enable a system of ‘auto-block’ that would black out information on sex determination online in India.
A bench led by Justice Dipak Misra said that the search engines are obligated under the laws of the land to ensure that not only these 43 keywords, but also other combination of words that might throw up results on pre-natal gender tests are blocked as soon as possible. The court shot down an argument by the counsel for Google, Yahoo and Microsoft that they would block other keywords only after such information is brought to their notice.
“In our considered opinion, they (search engines) are under obligation to see that the ‘doctrine of auto-block’ is applied within a reasonable period of time. It is difficult to accept the submission that once it is brought to their notice, they will do the needful. It need not be over emphasized that it has to be an in-house procedure/method to be introduced by the Companies, and we do direct,” said the bench.
Under the auto-block mechanism, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar told the bench, that as soon as the keywords are punched in, the system will block all the information online and a blank page would be shown.
Kumar, who represents the Central government in the PIL that has sought blocking of all information online that contravenes the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PC-PNDT) Act, further adduced a chart containing the Centre’s questions on the nature of publication of pertinent information online and their answers as provided by the search engines.
The bench noted that “all the respondents have agreed to follow the law of this country and not allow any advertisement or publish any content on their respective search engines” that violates the Act.
In their responses, Google and Microsoft specifically stated that they were ready to expressly prohibit commercial advertisements but this prohibition will not apply to other forms of content, including search results, videos, blogs, images and related search function that are algorithmically or organically populated.
All the search engines further agreed to publish warning messages and public announcements on the ‘search result’ page and also to restructure its auto-fill forms on the search pages to ensure elimination of words relating to pre-natal gender selection and tests. Keyword search terms will also be reviewed in future, they said.