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SC Directs Search Engines To ‘Autoblock’ Search On Pre-Natal Sex Determination [Read Order]

The Supreme Court on Monday observed that internet search engines Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! are under obligation to see that the “doctrine of autoblock” is applied within a reasonable period of time to prohibit any attempt to search any keyword pertaining to pre-natal sex determination.

A Bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra was acting on a petition filed by Sabu Mathew George, who is a member of the National Inspection and Monitoring Committee set up by the court in 2003 to inspect and report the implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) (PCPNDT) Act, 1994.

The plea said advertisements of pre-natal sex determination flooded the internet after the Act came into force in 1994 to crack down on female foeticide.

When the matter came up for hearing in July, the Bench had asked Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar to instruct the government to hold a meeting of technical experts of the government with that of the internet search engines within a week’s time and made it clear that “nothing shall be there on the search engines that will violate the law of this country”.

On Monday, Kumar submitted that that there was a meeting with three software companies, namely Google India, Yahoo! India and Microsoft Corporation (I) Pvt. Ltd., and, prior to the meeting, the companies were asked to respond to queries by the government.  The companies agreed to follow the law of this country and not to allow any advertisement or publish any content on their respective search engines.

It was submitted by the Solicitor General that all the three companies are bound to develop a technique so that, the moment any advertisement or search is introduced into the system, that will not be projected or seen by adopting the method of ‘autoblock’. To clarify, if any person tries to avail of the corridors of these companies, this device shall be adopted so that no one can enter/see the said advertisement or message or anything that is prohibited under the Act, specifically under Section 22 of the said Act.

He also submitted that he was apprised on Monday about the “proposed list of words” in respect of which when commands are given, there will be “autoblock” with a warning and nothing would be reflected in the internet, as it is prohibited in India.

Senior counsel appearing for the companies submitted that, apart from the aforesaid words, if anyone, taking recourse to any kind of ingenuity, feeds certain words and something that is prohibited under the Act comes into existence, the “principle of autoblock” shall be immediately applied and it shall not be shown. The counsel submitted that they can only do this when it is brought to their notice.

After hearing the parties, the Bench observed as follows:

“In our considered opinion, they are under obligation to see that the “doctrine of autoblock” 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 emphasised that it has to be an in-house procedure/method to be introduced by the companies, and we do direct.”

The Bench directed to post the matter for final disposal on 16th November, 2016.

Read the order here.

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