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Order enquiry into Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals apps, IFF urges IT parliamentary committee

It also asked the IT committee to hear from the victims who were targeted through these apps, among other suggestions.

The Internet Freedom Foundation and Editors Guild of India have spoken up against online harassment of women in connection with the Bulli Bai incident. While IFF requested the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT to investigate the matter, the Editors Guild of India urged the Supreme Court to order a probe into both, the Bulli Bai and Tek Fog apps.

In a letter to Shashi Tharoor, the chairperson of the Standing Committee, IFF said that creators of the Bulli Bai app violated the privacy of the women who were targeted, by sourcing their personal photos from their social media accounts.

“This has affected the personal safety and security of those targeted thus violating their constitutional Right to Life, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and has undermined their Right to Privacy.” — Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF)

The Bulli Bai app incident is not the first time that Muslim women were auctioned online. Another app called ‘Sulli Deals’ had similarly listed Muslim women for auction back in July.

Incident exposes lack of proactiveness of social media and tech platforms: IFF

“Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 assures “punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form”. However, the delay in the immediate removal of such defamatory material defeats the purpose of the Act.” — IFF

While requesting a more robust and effective system to safeguard women’s online security, IFF recommended that the Standing Committee take the following actions —

  • Invite the victims of these apps to testify.
  • Ask experts on digital rights and online safety to testify.
  • Call relevant officials from the government and the social media platforms involved (GitHub and Twitter) to discuss their content take-down and online safety policies.”
  • Summon Mumbai, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh police to ask about the delay in the Sulli Deals investigation.
  • Summon the National Commission of Women and relevant state commissions to enquire about the steps taken.

Dismantle this misogynistic and abusive digital ecosystem: Editors Guild of India

EGI pointed out that Muslim women were ‘auctioned’ on at least two open source apps created on the GitHub platform which included journalists critical of the present dispensation.

“Though law enforcement agencies have arrested those supposedly behind such apps, there is need for further investigation in order to ensure that all those behind such despicable acts even beyond those arrested, are brought to justice.” — Editors Guild of India .

The press body’s statement from January 11 also took cognisance of the controversial Tek Fog app that is reportedly capable of hijacking WhatsApp accounts and send toxic messages to journalists listed as targets, an investigation from The Wire revealed.

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Delhi High Court Women’s Lawyers Association: Earlier, an association of 150 lawyers urged the Chief Justice of India and other judges to issue guidelines to prevent another Bulli Bai incident from occurring, supervise the investigation undertaken by the Mumbai police, ensure a time-bound investigation, and so on, while also flagging the slowness of police action.

What is the Bulli Bai controversy?

As many as 100 Muslim women, some of them journalists, activists, and actresses, were listed for a fake online auction on a GitHub-made app called ‘Bulli Bai’. Their photographs were sourced and uploaded to the app without their knowledge, and they were then reportedly offered as ‘bulli bai’ – an offensive term for Muslim women – to users at random.

Later, four persons were arrested in connection with the Bulli Bai app. The main accused was identified by police as a 21-year old engineering student who is reportedly the owner of the GitHub account (on which the app was hosted) and the app’s main Twitter handle.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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