SC bans Google, Yahoo, Microsoft from showing sex determination ads in India
Supreme Court directed search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to strictly comply with Indian laws and block advertisements on sex determination.
New Delhi: Supreme Court on Wednesday directed search engines like Google India, Yahoo India and Microsoft Corporation (I) Pvt Ltd to strictly comply with Indian laws and block advertisements on sex determination of a foetus.
If any advertisement existed on any search engine, these should be "withdrawn forthwith" by the search engines, the apex court said categorically.
The court also directed the search engines to upload on their policy page and the terms of service page its order that they would not advertise or sponsor any advertisement which violated Section 22 of Prohibition of advertisement relating to pre-natal determination of sex (PC-PNDT) Act.
"As an interim measure, it is directed, the respondents, namely, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft shall not advertise or sponsor any advertisement which would violate Section 22 of the PC-PNDT Act, 1994," a bench of justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant said.
If any advertisement existed on any search engine, "the same shall be withdrawn forthwith by the respondents," it said.
The order was passed after Google and Microsoft argued that they were not advertising anything which violated the PC-PNDT Act or any Indian law.
They also said it was not clear from the government's affidavit the nature of information sought as it has only stated that the search engines should be asked to provide or submit details of measures adopted by them to block or filter keywords and sponsored links violative of PC-PNDT Act and amendments.
The apex court said matters relating to complete blocking of the items suggested by the government and providing the URL and IP addresses by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft would be taken up on 11 February.
It also took on record an additional affidavit filed by Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, who said the government could only block or filter the information once the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) was known or provided.
Therefore, the exact URL needed to be provided by the concerned agencies for blocking or filtering at the Internet Gateways, he said.
"On providing URLs hosting content infringing to PNDT Act, the government will direct service providers in the country to block all such URLs. The domain experts may search the URLs, list the relevant URLs and provide the same for blocking/filtering," the Department of Information Technology (DIT) affidavit said.
It also said that there was "limited technical knowhow in the country to decrypt/decode" encrypted software algorithm to search, read and disable the searches, it said.
"As a result the department finds difficult to effectively block/filter the information based on key word search results. Such blocking/filtering on keywords or advertisement links can be effectively and regularly done only by the search engines as they have access to their respective mathematical algorithms all the time," it said.
The affidavit, filed by Cyber Laws Formulation and Enforcement Division of DIT, said the search engines Yahoo, Microsoft and Google "should be asked to provide or submit details of measures adopted by them, so far, to block/filter keywords and sponsored links violative of PC-PNDT Act and amendments thereof."
It also sought directions for submission of the list of URLs providing information and sponsored links violative of PC-PNDT Act.
It further said that the search engines should also be directed to submit the commercial and monetary gains made by them by providing such URLs and sponsored ads or links.
"The respondents have the relevant technology and deep domain knowledge and expertise to block/filter the words/phrases/expressions and sponsored links which are violative of the same," the affidavit said.
During the three-hour-long hearing, senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for Google India argued that it followed a strict policy as per the law and the search engine giant does not host any advertisement for pre-natal sex determination.
He said while as per law, prohibition applied on advertisements, but prohibition on articles, debates, research papers etc "cannot be carried out. There has to be clarity on what is to be prohibited."
Counsel for Microsoft, which runs 'Bing.com' search engine, said it would be "unfair and illegal" to expect that it would block all contents which can be reached through its search engine. Moreover, blocking contents of others was not "technically feasible".
Yahoo will advance its arguments on the next date of hearing.
The court was hearing a PIL filed by Sabu Mathew George seeking court's intervention in view of decreasing number of girl child in the country.
Earlier, the court had come down heavily on various states for their failure to stop female foeticide leading to alarming drop in the sex ratio in the country.
It had asked two joint secretaries and one additional secretary of Union Health Ministry to convene a meeting of senior officials of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and National Capital Territory Delhi last month to check "relevant registers" and records that had formed the basis of the sex-ratio data provided by them.
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