Online intermediaries should be held responsible for sharing offensive content
The issue of whether Internet platforms can be held accountable for offensive videos is in focus, with the Supreme Court (SC) seeking responses from three such entities on the matter of transmitting sexual offences and cybercrime. A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Uday Umesh Lalit on Monday sought responses from Google India, Yahoo India, Microsoft Corporation (India) Ltd. and Facebook by January 9 on Hyderabad-based NGO Prajwala’s petition seeking a distinct mechanism through which one can report rape videos and seek their blockage. In August, the SC had asked the Union ministry of electronics and information technology about ways it could assist in reporting and blocking videos of rape under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, which are in circulation on social networking websites.
Intermediaries cannot be bystanders when sexual predators post child porn or rape videos on their platforms. India needs stronger norms for self-policing of networks. Search engines, video platforms and social media brands will have to become active players to prevent their platforms from being misused.
Unlike in the West, the IT Act of 2000, even after amendments in 2008, in a way insulates intermediaries when it comes to transmission of offensive content online. That is not the case in many developed nations. In the United States, for instance, the Child Status Protection Act puts the onus on reporting offensive child pornography content on the intermediaries immediately.
In fact, since India does not even have a comprehensive sex-offender register, many rapists who have shot such videos roam freely. Even if ultimately they get caught, the lack of a national offender register can embolden them to relocate or seek employment in another part of the country.
The number of crimes against children in the country went up to 94,172 (2015) from 89,423 in 2014, according to the statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau.
In the absence of a national-level institution to tackle online sexual offences, the CBI, by default, becomes the nodal agency to deal with such cases.
India lacks a stringent national legislation for protecting women and children from online offenders. The IT Act of 2000, when it was amended in 2008, diluted some of the penalties, entailing that certain offences be made bailable, say cyber security experts. If offenders who shoot rape videos take their immunity for granted, it is time the law wielded the stick on the messengers transmitting these repulsive messages.