The Supreme Court yesterday directed search engines and social media platforms like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft and Whatsapp to work on developing a firewall to automatically block sexually violent content, like these rape videos we reported on in November 2016, from the Internet. The Supreme Court has given them three weeks to outline how the mechanism might work.
During the hearing, Google submitted that such a firewall was not really necessary, and that they would remove objectionable content in 48 to 72 hours (a veritable lifetime on the Internet). They further submitted that this kind of firewall would adversely affect search results undertaken for research and legal purposes. The example they provided was that even legal information on a film like Damini would then get, for all practical purposes, erased from the Internet forever.
The Bench sounded almost suspicious that Google and other respondents were “shying away” from making the move, and, somewhat ominously, agreed with petitioner Prajwala, an NGO, that if China could build such a firewall (the controversial “Great Firewall of China” that blocks references to words like jasmine, Hillary Clinton, protest and empty chair), they could too. For it’s part, the Centre has pledged Rs 195.83 crore to set up a “Cyber Crime Prevention Against Women and Children” cell over the next three years, which would hopefully go a long way in keeping rape videos and revenge porn off the Internet.
While we’re all for making sure this kind of violent content isn’t found and shared online, is building a “great firewall” on Chinese lines the best way to do it? China’s firewall has come under fire from watchdogs and is used as a blueprint by other restrictive regimes for online censorship, and creating such a tool and putting it in the hands of private players could lead us down a slippery slope.