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‘Sexually explicit’ video case: WhatsApp tells Delhi HC can’t take it down ‘unless numbers are shared with us’

Meta and Twitter told the court that they had removed the purported video of a judicial officer and a woman circulating on their platforms, while the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology submitted that it had filed a compliance report in this regard.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal said that the numbers have to be provided to the court as the order for the removal of the video has to come from the court. (File)

Messaging application WhatsApp told the Delhi High Court Friday that the platform cannot remove or block the sexually explicit video, which purportedly shows a judicial officer and a woman, alleged to be circulating on its app unless phone numbers are provided to them.

Appearing for the messaging platform senior advocate Kapil Sibal submitted before a single judge bench of Justice Yashwant Varma, “They are expecting us to do something which we cannot do. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) also says we cannot do it till they give us phone numbers,” adding that unless specific phone numbers are provided to his client the video cannot be removed.

The counsel appearing for the woman, Ashish Dixit, submitted that she would take down some phone numbers and share them with WhatsApp. At this point, Sibal said that the numbers have to be provided to the court as the order for the removal of the video has to come from the court.

Dixit also informed the court that there were still certain URLs that were carrying the purported video. Meta and Twitter also submitted that they had removed the video circulating on their platforms and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology submitted that it had filed a compliance report in this regard.

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The HC thereafter observed, “The counsel for the plaintiff apprises the court that respondents have taken remedial action…he prays for and is granted liberty to provide URLs which carry the content in question to the concerned platforms for its removal”. The HC further allowed the plaintiff to provide the phone numbers pursuant to which WhatsApp can take action. The matter is next listed on February 8, 2023.

The court further noted that the details of the URLs on which the offending material is still stated to be available for viewing has been handed over to the counsel representing the defendant platforms. Google, which owns YouTube, submitted before the court that the URLs pertaining to YouTube will be taken down.

In a late hearing which took place in the judge’s chamber on November 30, the High Court had ordered the social media platforms to take all permissible steps to ensure that the further sharing, distribution, forwarding or posting of the offending video, circulating online since November 29, is “restrained forthwith”.

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Justice Varma directed the defendants – social media platforms – to ensure the video is not shared, distributed, forwarded or posted any further. It further directed the Centre, through the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, to ensure that “all further steps as are warranted… are taken and a compliance report submitted in these proceedings”.

Issuing notice to the social media platforms and the Centre, the HC granted an “ad interim ex parte injunction” in favour of the woman bearing in mind the “sexually explicit nature of the contents” of the video and after considering the imminent, grave and irreparable harm that is likely to be caused to her privacy rights.

The directions were passed in a lawsuit filed by a woman, seeking issuance of an order “permanently restraining” the social media platforms, their associates, sister concerns, agents and others from publishing, re-publishing and telecasting, in any manner, “a purported video dated March 9, 2022, which is stated to be circulating on various social media platforms as well as web portals since November 29, 2022”.

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The woman further prayed for disabling the users of the services provided by the social media platform “from sharing or forwarding the video in question over their platform”. The woman alleged that the video is “fake and fabricated”. As per the time stamp in the video, “she was not present inside the chamber but was actually present inside the court”, Dixit said.

The HC, which heard the lawsuit in the chamber, said that it had viewed the content in respect of which the complaint was made.

“The court bears in mind the provisions of Section 354C (voyeurism) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 as well as 67A (punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act, etc, in electronic form) of the Information and Technology Act, 2000 which laws, prima facie, would appear to be violated in case further circulation, sharing and distribution of the video were to be permitted. The content, if circulated amongst parties and users of the services provided by the defendant numbers 1 to 4, would also appear to, prima facie, violate the Legally Acceptable Terms of Use as adopted by the said defendants,” the HC observed.

First published on: 09-12-2022 at 16:09 IST
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