The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked internet services providers (ISPs) like Google whether there was any mechanism to identify culprits uploading obscene contents on websites. The apex court did not prima facie agree with the submission that there cannot be preventive blockage but only curative blockage and said “we want prevention and not cure”.
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A bench of Justices M B Lokur and U U Lalit referred to the loss of reputation and dignity of women and children, whose offensive and obscene sexual offence videos were uploaded on websites and asked the counsel for Google about the mechanism, if any, to identify culprits before they upload such objectionable contents.
Senior advocate Sajan Poovayya, appearing for Google, said being an ISP (internet service provider), it only “catalogued” the contents hosted by it and the offensive ones were taken off when they are brought to its notice.
Huge amounts of videos and other materials are uploaded every hour by websites on search engines like Google and it would be very difficult to analyse and block them before they are uploaded, the senior lawyer said.
The lawyer said the government’s nodal agency could help ISPs in ensuring that objectionable contents are taken off.
Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, appearing for the Centre, alleged that the ISPs wanted to earn and say that they will not do anything on their own.
“What is this? They say if it is pointed out to them, then they will take the materials off,” he said.
During the hearing, the bench referred to the provisions of the Information Technology Act and asked the counsel for ISPs to apprise it on how would they abide by the guidelines on regulating web contents.
Giving an illustration, it said if a particular person delivered hate speeches and the government wanted to block this from getting uploaded, “can it be done?”
“It will be almost impossible. Any person from anywhere in the world can upload the speech,” the counsel responded.
“We already have mechanisms in place that allow users and authorities to report contents including videos that depict sexual violence against women and children and have them removed expeditiously. We also work closely with law enforcement agencies, as per due process of law, to identify the perpetrators,” Google said in a statement.
The apex court had on December 5 last year sought response from Internet majors Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook on a plea seeking curbs on sharing of sexual offence videos on social networking sites and steps to check cyber crimes.
The counsel for Google said it was difficult to block the content at the threshold from getting uploaded.
The bench pointed out that the time taken in taking off objectionable videos or materials led to loss of reputation and dignity of the victims and asked, “will it or will it not be conducive to prevent the uploading of such contents?”
It also said if identity of the persons, who upload such contents, are verified, then a case of “misrepresentation” can be initiated in case of uploading such videos.
The court would hold further hearing on Wednesday.
The Centre today also informed the apex court that it will set up a specialised nodal agency to block and curb sharing of sexual offence videos on social networking sites.
The court had then asked the Centre to specify the structure and functions of the agency sought to be created and whether it will work under the CBI or the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The ASG had said even the budgetary allocation has been made for creating a specialised central institutional mechanism for blocking, stopping videos from being uploaded and circulation of such materials on social networking platforms.
However, Internet majors like Google India, Microsoft India, Yahoo India and Facebook, which were issued notice by the apex court, had said it was not possible for them to auto-block the contents.
Lawyer Aparna Bhat, who has been assisting the court as amicus curiae, gave various suggestions to curb circulation of sexually offensive videos and said such contents should be blocked once they are detected and a mechanism is needed to be created to stopping their uploading on such social sites and platforms.
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.
It had taken suo motu note of the letter on the posting of these videos on WhatsApp and asked CBI to launch a probe forthwith to nab the culprits.