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SC pulls up Facebook, Google, WhatsApp and others for rape videos

The Supreme Court of India has pulled up Internet companies Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and WhatsApp about videos on rape, child pornography being uploaded, the Economic Times reports. The companies were required to submit affidavits regarding the number of complaints they received for the year till August 31.

The court heard sent to complaint to chief justice  HL Dattu by Hyderabad-based NGO Prajwala run by activist Sunitha Krishnan, along with two rape videos in a pen drive. Meanwhile, the NGO had mooted the idea of a partnership with the ministry of home affairs with YouTube and WhatsApp to ensure that such videos are not uploaded. The NGO also wanted a national sex offenders’ register that will have details of persons convicted for offences like eve-teasing, stalking, molestation and other sexual assaults.

Note that YouTube does have a mechanism for flagging content which might be offensive and does take videos down but it will be difficult in the case of WhastApp as it functions as a messaging service and is end-to-end encrypted. Because of the encryption, communication between two users will be impossible to read by others including WhatsApp. This means requests for data by governments will be technically impossible to comply with.

Meanwhile, the advocates appearing for Google, Microsoft and Yahoo argued that it was technically not feasible to block all keywords, as they mentioned in a previous case on sex determination ads.

Note the first time

In December 2015, the court sought the central government’s view on setting up a pan-India agency which would look into the increased proliferation of rape videos and child pornography shared via WhatsApp and Facebook groups. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) asked the Supreme Court to authorise it to investigate and prosecute rape videos being shared on the Internet and online messaging platforms in November 2016.

CBI asked for national jurisdiction to deal with online sexual crimes, which makes sense. Currently, if a rape video is shot in say Bihar, and shared with users in Maharashtra, the Maharashtra police is unable to take action on it even if a complaint is lodged, as local police do not have jurisdiction in other states. This is true not only for sexual assault cases but also cases of cyberbullying and other online crimes.

Slow in dealing with online crime

The Government of India had said last year that it would setup an ‘Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre’ (I-4C), for monitoring and capacity building against cyber crimes, as well as help law enforcement agencies in curbing these crimes. The agency would monitor offences such as child pornography, cyber bullying and development of forensic cyber labs and link it with state police through the Crime and Criminal Tracking and Network System (CCTNS).

A similar project, the National Cyber Coordination Centre (NCCC), which received in-principal approval in 2013, is yet to get off the ground as well. Note that India has no shortage of cyber security agencies, however, these focus on national security, economic offences, security of national databases like Aadhaar and gauging and monitoring public opinions, and none exist for dealing with online/offline crimes like cyber bullying, or sexual assault, across states. While handing over online crime to a national investigative agency like the CBI can be a temporary solution, it is no substitute for local police coordination across states, which will become increasingly imperative as more of India’s unconnected population comes online.

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