Don't promote pre-natal sex selection, SC tells search engines

Observing that “India is suffering so much because of its sex ratio”, the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed Internet search engines, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to neither advertise nor sponsor pre-natal sex selection advertisements.

In an interim order, a Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C. Pant ordered the three search engines to “forthwith” withdraw online advertisements, currently being hosted or published, on pre-natal sex determination facilities, clinics or centres in violation of Section 22 of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) or PC-PNDT Act, 1994.

The Supreme Court directed the search engines to upload this order on their policy page and also the page containing 'terms and conditions of service' to serve as a warning for persons intending to put up such advertisements.

Further, on March 11, 2015, the Bench would consider the government's suggestion that the three search engines provide it with a list of URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) and Internet Protocol Addresses hosting pre-natal sex determination advertisement ads, so that they can be blocked or filtered.

Referring to an affidavit filed by Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar said the government would be able to “stop the presentation of any kind of thing that relates to sex selection and eventual abortion” if the search engines part with the the URLs. Alternatively, he said search engines can also “effectively or regularly” key words and advertisement links as they have the “relevant technology and deep-domain knowledge” to do it.

“Either you (search engines) stop it or we will do it ourselves at the gateway if you provide us with the details,” Mr. Kumar submitted in court.

Objecting, senior advocate Shyam Divan, representing Google, said the Internet is a “censor-free zone” and the government's stand amounted to “pre-censorship and information blocking”.

But Justice Misra countered orally that “censorship and legal prohibition are two different things”.

To this, Mr. Divan replied that Google had technical and contractual filters which already prevented anyone from posting content offensive to the laws of a particular country.

When Justice Misra orally observed that search engines may have a “propagandistic” role by hosting these ads, Mr. Divan countered that a search engine does not advertise and acted only as a source for debate and discussion on a blizzard of topics.

He further argued that blocking keywords on their search engine would amount to a gag on free speech and expression on the Internet.

He said a block on keywords on their search engine would even result in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech on female sex ratio getting blocked.

“A blocking of search words, in effect, would lead to good searches being wiped out. The concept of search is very different from blocking offending advertisements. The blocking must be reasonable,” Mr. Divan contended.

The hearing is based on a PIL filed by Dr. Sabu Mathew George in 2008 highlighting the use of Internet and popular search engines to promote sex determination technologies in violation of the 1994 Act.

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Printable version | Jun 25, 2022 4:29:13 pm |