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The issue of child pornography in India has taken another lead with the Supreme Court bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and UU Lalit on October 23 asking the Centre to implement the proposals given by the high-powered committee on videos of child pornography, rape and gang rape.

The Supreme Court has asked the government to set up a cell under the CBI or the Ministry of Home Affairs to check the circulation of such videos. During the proceedings presentations and papers were discussed by the Committee and the representatives of Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, and WhatsApp.

There is agreement on 11 of the proposals recommended by the Committee. The Committee has asked to implement the recommendations at the earliest. Some of the notable recommendations are:

  • The search engines expand the list of key words which may possibly be used by a user to search for CP content
  • These key words should also be in Indian languages and vernacular search.
  • Government of India to form regulations for reporting of identified CP/RGR imagery online.
  • There must be a user authentication system, a system in which the users who try to upload an image/video, falling within the subject content, using the pre-defined keywords, are put to a more rigorous verification process which would have them believe that they would be traced.

The government will have to submit a status report on the implementation of these recommendations and place it in sealed cover before the next date of hearing which is December 11. The next hearing will also be held in-camera like the previous hearing.

Backgrounder

Prajwala, an NGO working against child and women trafficking, had written a letter on February 18, 2015 regarding abundant circulation of sexual violence videos. The Court then constituted a committee under Dr. Ajay Kumar, the then additional Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. The case was converted in to a suo motu criminal writ petition by the apex court.

The Supreme Court had ordered a committee to be formed on March 22 this year. The Committee had to assist and advise the Court on the feasibility of ensuring that videos that depict rape, gang rape and child pornography are not available for circulation.

Social media platforms

Facebook and WhatsApp are also parties in the case in which they have to check the circulation of such objectionable content on their platform. It is unclear as to how these social media platforms plan to deal with child porn content in India. Facebook already has several content related to child pornography and it has actually failed to remove these content even after being reported by many of the British newspapers. Earlier this year British news organizations such as BBC, Times had reported Facebook being a sprawling ground for sharing and uploading of child porn content. However, Facebook, instead of working on removal of such content had responded that the content does not breach its “community standards”.

It is unclear as to how Facebook, which has been criticised internationally for its mishandling of such sensitive matters, will handle child porn content in India. There are secret groups on Facebook which can be joined only when people are invited by other members. Such groups can share among themselves content related to child pornography with much ease.

WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned messaging app was asked by apex court to improve its reporting process for lodging content. One of the recommendations that the court-appointed Committee came in to consensus on, was that WhatsApp “should make further improvement in their reporting process which would enable easier reporting of contents in the App… ”. The perpetrators of child porn content share them via encrypted systems such as WhatsApp and therefore it is more important to tackle the circulation on this App. WhatsApp already has end-to-end encryption feature which means that any content—messages, photos, videos sent over the app cannot be accessed by anyone except the sender and the receiver. A related case is already pending before the apex court

Is it really possible for websites to tackle child pornography?

On February 21, while one of the previous hearings of the case, Google had submitted before the court: “If the objectionable content is provided to us we will be able to block it or take down from the site. But it is neither humanly nor technologically possible to keep a watch on lakhs of videos uploaded on an hourly basis. We, as an internet provider, have limitations.

“We are only a search engine. We will take it off from our search, but the actual site will continue to show the clip. We are the major search engine but there are other search engines as well,” the counsel for Google submitted.

Well that is quite true. According to experts, Google or any other prominent search engine for that matter cannot stop videos of child porn or sexual violence from being circulated. These are mere search engines and not internet. They can atmost take down an objectionable video from their search engine but cannot take it down from the internet. The blocking of keywords that are used while searching these content is also not sure to be helpful that much. If one keyword is blocked the culprits will come up with another new word. Peer-to-peer networks are used to circulate such content because after being connected to these networks, one can upload and download files without disclosing much personal information.

What does the law say?

Section 67(b) of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008 clarifies who all are punishable for publishing or transmitting material that depicts children in sexually explicit acts. Not just the ones who create and share content of child pornography but also the ones who view, browse or download such content are also punishable under the act.

It includes ones who “creates text or digital images, collects seeks, browses, downloads, advertises, promotes, exchanges or distributes material in any electronic form depicting children in obscene or indecent or sexually explicit manner” to be punished with imprisonment of five years and a fine which may extend up to ten lakhs. The Act also clarifies the term “children” to eb anyone who has not completed the age of 18 years. Despite a law in place, India is one of the biggest contributors and also consumers of child pornography.

—India Legal Bureau

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