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SC asks search engines to delete info about sex determination

SC asks search engines to delete info about sex determination

New Delhi: Search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft were today asked to “delete” within 36 hours the advertisements, hosted by them, pertaining to pre-natal sex determination in India by the Supreme Court which directed the Centre to appoint a nodal agency to monitor the websites.

A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy said that the nodal agency would inform these search engines about any such advertisements on the websites and Indian arms of Google, Microsoft and Yahoo would delete them within 36 hours.

“We direct the Union of India to constitute a nodal agency which would give advertisments on TV, radio and in newspapers….that if anybody comes across anything which identify a girl or a boy (at pre-natal stage), it should be brought to the notice of the nodal agency.

“Once it is brought to the notice of the nodal agency, it shall inform the search engines and they, after receiving the information, are obliged to delete it within 36 hours and inform the nodal agency,” the bench said.

The apex court, which fixed the matter for further hearing on February 17 next year, said the “interim arrangement” would continue till the issue pertaining to advertisements relating to pre-natal sex determination was “debated” upon before it.

During the hearing, the bench expressed concern over the declining sex ratio and said, “Whether one will have a boy or a girl, that kind of information is not necessary in India. The sex ratio is going down here and we are concerned about that.”

“We had passed an order recently on this. Whether you are making money or not we are not concerned with that. The 1994 (Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) Act says nobody shall propagate (pre-natal sex determination) and if anyone is propagating, it has to be stopped,” it said.

“Whatever is prohibited under the Act cannot go through it (websites),” the bench observed, adding, “If anyone comes across anything which offends or has an impact on the sex ratio in India, it shall be removed by the search engines within 36 hours.”

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who was appearing for Google India Pvt Ltd, said they have complied with the earlier order passed by the apex court in the matter and they have already taken steps to block any such advertisements.

The counsel appearing for the other search engines also said that they have taken steps to comply with the provisions of the Act. However, they contended that the matter requires further debate.

Regarding the submissions by search engines about access to information, unless it is not prohibited under the Act, the bench said this issue has to be debated upon during further hearing.

Advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for petitioner Sabu Mathew George who is seeking the court’s intervention in view of decreasing sex ratio, claimed that despite the order of the apex court, one can see advertisements and information pertaining to gender determination on such websites.

He said that the search engines were raising the issue of commerical angle and freedom of access to information. During the hearing, the bench also asked the Centre about what steps it has taken in this regard.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) P S Narsimha said that the intent of the law is to prohibit any advertisement pertaining to pre-natal sex determination and search engines should devise their own methods to stop it. He said that the Centre has filed an affidavit in this regard before the court.

The apex court had on September 19 said that these search engines were under “obligation” to check advertisements about pre-natal sex determination in India and had directed them to to develop in-house methods to prohibit such content.

The direction had come after Solicitor General (SG) Ranjit Kumar had said that these search engines have agreed to follow the law on sex determination and would not allow advertisement or “publish any content” on the issue on their respective search engines.

The SG had told the court that all the three companies have developed a technique called “auto block” which prohibits advertisements on sex determination the moment any “advertisement or search” is introduced in the online system.

He had also submitted a list of “proposed” 43 key words in respect of which, when commands are given, there would be “auto block” with a warning and nothing would be reflected on the internet.

The lawyers appearing for the online search engines had informed the court that if anyone fed any of the proposed 43 keywords, the principle of ‘auto block’ would be immediately applied and such advertisements and messages would not be shown.

Earlier, the apex court had pulled up online search engines for failing to check advertisements pertaining to pre -natal sex determination, saying they patently violated law.

Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 was enacted to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in India. It had banned pre- natal sex determination.

PTI