There can be no such thing as untrammeled freedom, and social media cannot be an exception either. When rape videos are being openly posted and circulated online, it has once again been left to the apex court in India to chastise the Central government and put online intermediaries on notice. Last month, the Supreme Court had to rap the government for its failure to file a response for 11 months altogether in a case relating to the posting of rape videos on WhatsApp. The case arose from a letter to the then Chief Justice of India HL Dattu by Hyderabad–based NGO ‘Prajwala’ along with two rape videos in a pen drive. The apex court at once took suo motu notice of the letter and directed the CBI to launch a probe. Shockingly, ‘Prajwala’s founder Sunitha Krishn has stated that she has 90 such videos, with one person filming and the other/others raping the victim. Not only are these gangrape videos sold over–the–counter in seedy joints, they are increasingly being posted online. In turn, sexual offenders are using the threat of dissemiting such videos to blackmail their victims or coerce them into silence. Legal experts have pointed out that if such videos show minor victims, Indian law is sufficiently strict. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 as well as Section 67B of the IT Act, have stringent provisions to punish offenders targeting children. But if the rape victim is not a minor, there is little protection under Indian law if videos of their ordeal are filmed, dissemited, browsed online, downloaded and further circulated. There are no specific laws punishing such rape videos, because these are treated as pornography — so rape is not considered an act standing apart from a ‘sexually explicit or obscene’ act! Since dealing with pornographic videos is not an offence, the same is sadly the case for rape videos. Legal experts say that if rape is punishable, so must be the acts of filming as well as dissemiting, storing and viewing it; and they have called for specific laws to plug all these gaps and il offenders.
After the Centre told the apex court that direct service providers must not allow subscribers to circulate objectioble material on social networking sites, the SC bench turned its attention to these online intermediaries. Last Monday, it sought responses from social networking site Facebook and three internet search engines Google, Yahoo and Microsoft as to why their platforms are hosting such material. The problem is not just videos showing sexual assaults, but also uploading of private clips without consent — causing much humiliation and harassment to victims. Several important points were raised during this hearing. The Supreme Court last month had directed online search engines Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to remove all illegal advertisements and content relating to sex selection and abortion. But the question was — would it not impose a huge burden on websites to monitor and police the content posted in their platforms? So the apex court directed the Centre to appoint a nodal agency to monitor these websites and also seek public information about any objectioble advertisements. As soon as this agency informs search engines about such advertisements, these must be deleted within 36 hours. In a similar manner, there is a need for a nodal agency to constantly monitor and interact with online intermediaries to pull off objectioble videos. The Additiol Solicitor told the SC bench on Monday that the Central government is considering making CBI a nodal agency to handle all cyber crime cases, and is also setting up a tiol Cyber Crime Coordition Centre to co–ordite on such cases with other agencies. But will the CBI be upto this task, overburdened as it is? ‘Prajwala’ has suggested that the government should create a forum which makes it easy for an informant to forward the link of any offending video and seek its blockage. The government must also frame laws or amend existing ones to force online intermediaries to be more responsible. If giants like Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube can plan a shared database to weed out terror–related content, they can do so with other cyber crimes like posting rape videos as well. And if the Chinese government can show the will to monitor internet usage, the Government of India should at least take pro–active steps to prevent the spread of illegal content online.