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Here’s what the IT Ministry had to say about prostitution listings on Locanto

Locanto’s prostitution listings present a legal dilemma for the central government as its violations of Indian law are at a state level.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) was asked about prostitution listings on classifieds website Locanto, a Craigslist-like classifieds site. The parliamentary question was asked by DMK Lok Sabha Member of Parliament AKP Chinraj. The case is interesting, as Locanto’s parent company, Yalwa GmbH, is based in Germany, but also offers services in India. Prostitution listings on the site appear with a simple Google search, and Indian law enforcement has struggled to keep up with the deluge of prostitution listings on the site. For instance, here are the arrests made in a single city over the last couple of months:

  • May 21: An anti-trafficking police unit in Telangana arrested five Ugandan nationals in Dilsukhnagar for managing an organised prostitution ring with listings on Locanto, Telangana Today reported.
  • May 19: A production manager in Hyderabad was arrested for involvement in a prostitution ring. He was also caught through advertisements found on Locanto, the New Indian Express reported.
  • April 29: Police arrest a man for posting prostitution listings on Locanto, Telangana Today reported.

Why it matters? What happens when an intermediary based abroad is used to commit crimes that are not at a central level? What if these intermediaries don’t have any presence in India? The law doesn’t offer remedies like blocking, as that can only be done under the IT Act. As more and more Indians get online, the legislative and technological challenges around this subject will only grow.

Centre can’t take action

“As per the Information Technology Act, 2000, publishing or transmitting of obscene and pornographic material in electronic form is a cyber crime,” Minister of State for Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said in his reply. “Further, the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, notified on 25th February, 2021 under the Act, provides for disabling/removal of any unlawful content by intermediary on receipt of a court order or on being notified by the Appropriate Government or its agency.” As far as we can see, Locanto hasn’t put up details of a grievance officer for India, as required by the Rules. MediaNama has reached out to Locanto for a statement and will update this report if they respond.

But, Chandrasekhar added, it was not possible to ban such websites because “Police and Public Order are State subjects.” As such, the central government, which regulates the internet under the Department of Telecommunications, cannot ban these sites as their violations of Indian law are at a state level. “Complainants must lodge complaints at cybercrime portal and with law enforcement agencies. Action will be taken by the law enforcement agencies as per the provisions of the IT Act,” Chandrasekhar added.

Centre can’t act on Real Money Gaming either: If this sounds familiar, it’s because the government’s hands have been tied on this before. A couple weeks ago, we discussed in a report how it was largely illegal for foreign betting and gambling websites to offer their services in India; in spite of this, the government is helpless to stop these services, as gambling is a state subject.

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Full question and answer

Will the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology be pleased to state:

(a) whether the Government has received any complaint with regard to online prostitution carried out on a website named ‘Locanto’ and if so, the details thereof and the action taken by the Government thereon; and

(b) whether the Government proposes to ban websites which facilitate online illicit and immoral activities and if so, the details thereof and if not, the reasons therefor?

ANSWER

MINISTER OF STATE FOR ELECTRONICS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

(SHRI RAJEEV CHANDRASEKHAR)

(a): The Locanto website is an internet platform where users can publish and respond to classified ads. There have been some complaints received by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) about the misuse of such sites for online prostitution. Government has taken steps to curb such online activities. As per the Information Technology Act, 2000,publishing or transmitting of obscene and pornographic material in electronic form is a cyber crime. Further, the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, notified on 25th February, 2021 under the Act, provides for disabling/removal of any unlawful content by intermediary on receipt of a court order or on being notified by the Appropriate Government or its agency. Also, Rule 3(2) of these Rules provides that on a complaint by an individual, the intermediary shall within 24 hours remove any content which prima facie exposes the private area of such individual, shows such individual in full or partial nudity or shows or depicts such individual in any sexual act or conduct, or is in the nature of impersonation in an electronic form, including artificially morphed images of such individual.

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(b): “Police” and “Public Order” are State subjects. Complainants must lodge complaints at cybercrime portal (www.cybercrime.gov.in) and with law enforcement agencies. Action will be taken by the law enforcement agencies as per the provisions of the IT Act.

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Written By

I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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