Search Engines and Law in IndiaCan internet search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing (owned by Microsoft) violate or cause Indian laws to be violated by taking a plea that they are just intermediaries and have no control over the content of websites accessed by Indian citizens through keyword search on their search engines? Obviously, the Supreme Court does not think so. Last year, it had ordered search engines to desist from letting sex determination advertisements appear on any links accessed by Indian citizens by making a keyword search on their websites. Since they had not complied with that order, the court has rapped them recently in a hearing on a PIL and asked the union government to submit a report after consulting experts.
By Sunil Garodia
The lawyers appearing for the search engines argued that they were not violating any Indian law. But section 22 of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 that bans such advertising in India, is quite comprehensive and includes all possible types of advertising through every conceivable means. It says no person or organization can issue or even cause any advertisement to be issued on the subject. While the search engines are not issuing such ads, they are causing access to these ads as the links appearing on their search pages lead one to websites that blatantly advertise sex detection of the foetus.
Although there is no easy solution to this, the court wants the government to consult experts and file a report by 25th July. A complete ban on keyword search related to sex determination tests is neither advisable nor practical. There are a million combinations of words that can be used to get desired results. Since the search engines have a set mechanism whereby results are published, and since they do not have any control over content of third party websites, it will not be possible for them to filter results by which website carries ads and which does not. Since a search for sex determination test cannot always be for clinics conducting such tests and it can be for other information and study purpose, a blanket ban will be unethical and deprive genuine scholars, researchers and journalists access to the huge database on the internet.
The government has a huge task at hand. It must constitute a committee of cyber experts and sit with similar experts from search engines to find out a way to stop the violation of the law. The mechanism arrived at must satisfy the apex court. But the court has given just two weeks for the job and one feels it is too complex an issue for a solution to be found within that deadline.