A Bench of the Supreme Court of India, comprising of Chief Justice of India, S.A. Bobde, and Justices B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant adjourned the matter with regard to mass circulation of videos containing sexual violence over internet-based messaging platforms.
On Tuesday Advocate Aparna Bhat for the Petitioner informed the Bench that despite the setting up of a cyber police portal, no meetings had been conducted by the government with either the Petitioners or the intermediaries since December 2018. Directions were sought for the implementation of the same.
To this, the Ministry of Home Affairs informed the Court that a meeting involving the intermediaries and all the stakeholders would be held.
Bhat also highlighted certain issues afflicting the draft SOP (for instance, the time span for the resolution of a complaint, and the existence of multiple copies of the impugned content despite its removal).
The Court has directed to file the status report. Matter is now listed after 4 weeks.
In 2015, the Supreme Court had taken suo motu cognizance of a letter written to the then CJI H.L. Dattu by Hyderabad-based NGO Prajwala seeking prevention of circulation of two videos on WhatsApp which displayed heinous sexual crimes being committed.
A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur (now retired) and U.U. Lalit had taken note of the contents of the letter and issued notice to the Union, a number of states, as well as directed the CBI Director to initiate an investigation. A Petition was also filed, giving effect to the same.
The issues raised by the Petition are as follows:
"a. Whether a sexually violent act can be recorded, stored, uploaded, shared and circulated using any media by any person, group of persons, association or any body corporate?
b. Is it an offence under existing law?
c. Can a mechanism be created to ensure that these videos are not circulated, shared and/or otherwise available for viewing by anybody?
d. What is the responsibility of the law enforcement agencies to ensure (c) is complied with?
e. Do the agencies (including intermediaries) which are the medium used for the purposes of uploading/sharing/circulating have any legal obligation to ensure that the same are not circulated and also report it at first instance to the appropriate law enforcement agency? What are the consequences of failure to comply?
f. Mutual cooperation between/of the intermediaries to ensure compliance of this legal obligation and cooperation with law enforcement agencies.
g. Creating mechanisms to ensure that these videos are removed/blocked in the first instance so that circulation does not take place.
h. Mechanisms for reporting by any concerned member of the civil society without necessarily being a complainant.
i. Creation of National Sex Offender Registry."
On 22.03.2017, the Apex Court had constituted a Committee comprising of representatives of the government, the Counsel for the Petitioner, the Amicus Curiae and representatives for Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and Facebook (later on, WhatsApp) to assist and advise the Court regarding methods to ensure the prevention of circulation of videos depicting gang rape, child pornography and rape amongst the public. A status report was to be prepared on the implementation of the proposals and recommendations that had consensus vide Order dated 04.09.2017.
Additionally, vide an October 20th 2018 order, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the Union had prepared a Standard Operating Procedure for a cyber police portal to handle complaints involving child pornography. A cut-off date of 15th November 2018 was fixed for finalizing the SOP and a copy of the same was to be provided to the intermediaries for their suggestions.
On 28.11.2018, the Apex Court took into account the actions that had been undertaken by the Ministry of Home Affairs and acknowledged the steps that were to be undertaken by the intermediaries, as identified by the Ministry. Accordingly, on 06.12.2018, the Court directed the draft SOP to be filed by 10.12.2019 and instructed the intermediaries to each give a draft SOP for the purposes of implementation of the suggestions.