The Delhi High Court issued notices to Google, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube for allowing the upload content which revealed the identity of an eight-year-old girl who was raped and killed in Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir. While issuing the notice the court said that the platforms had done “a great disservice to the nation” by allowing these uploads. The notice was issued to these global web giants after the Indian subsidiaries of these companies told the bench that they were not the concerned entity to reply to the court’s notice on the issue.

The bench noted that many Internet platforms and social networking sites were extensively displaying the photographs, name of the victim and they cannot absolve themselves for such activities. Under Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code, anyone who divulges the identity of a victim of sexual violence and rape could be sent to a minimum of two years imprisonment.

The bench also said messages and images were circulated on Whatsapp showing India in a bad light. It also observed that the entities cannot absolve themselves for the illegal activities on their websites and the law was the same for everyone. The court also asked the counsel for the web platforms to take instructions as to how much they were willing to deposit to the Jammu and Kashmir Victim Compensation Fund as compensation for the victims.

Media houses rapped too

Last month, the court had also come down hard media houses for its “absolute violation of the specific provision of law disrespecting the privacy of the victim, which is required to be maintained in respect of the identity of a victim.” Section 23 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act lays down the procedure for the media to report cases of sexual offences against child victims. The court had asked media houses responsible to deposit Rs 10 lakh as penalty towards the State’s rape victims compensation funds. It sought the response from 12 media houses- The Times of India, The Hindu, The Statesman, The Pioneer, The Navbharat Times, NDTV, Firstpost, The Week, The Republic TV, The Deccan Chronicle, India TV and The Indian Express.

Safe harbour provisions

While the parent entities of the digital platforms are yet to respond to the court’s notice they may be able to use the “safe harbour” argument to defend themselves in this case.

The Section 79 of the IT Act provides intermediaries “safe harbour” for user-generated content, and they are exempt for any content posted by third parties. However, under Section 79(3)(b), “upon receiving actual knowledge”, or the government’s intimation that “any information, data or communication link residing in or connected to a computer resource controlled by the intermediary is being used to commit the unlawful act,” the intermediary loses this immunity.