Search engines capable of blocking contents mocking Indian laws, says govt

Rebuffing the stand taken by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, the Centre Friday informed the Supreme Court that these search engines were capable of blocking all contents mocking Indian laws, including those relating to pre-natal sex determination technologies.

By Utkarsh Anand

In its affidavit, the Ministry of Communications and Technology has stated that the “search engines have the relevant technology and deep-domain knowledge and expertise to block/filter the words/phrases/expressions and sponsored links, which are violative of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act. The Act prohibits sex determination of a foetus.

The ministry contended that the search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft were intermediaries, as defined under the Information Technology Act, and hence they had statutory obligations to perform due diligence and block all contents that breached Indian laws.
It pointed out that the search engines used algorithm to rank search results on web pages and that it was used as a marketing technique for the entities to gain higher page ranking against a key word search.

Since there was a limited technical knowhow in the country to decode such algorithm and disable search of contentious key words, the Department of Electronics and Information Technology found it difficult to block the information based on the key word search results, which could include unlawful information.

“Such blocking/filtering on keywords or advertisements can be effectively and regularly done only by the search engines as they have access to their respective mathematical algorithms all the time,” claimed the ministry. It said Google, Yahoo and Microsoft should be asked by the court to provide details of measures adopted by them to block keywords and sponsored links violative of the PC-PNDT Act.

The affidavit has been filed in response to a PIL by Sabu Mathew George, who said the search engines violated Indian laws by displaying pre-natal sex determination ads.

The ministry’s reply demolishes the search engines’ argument that blocking the contents uploaded by a third party was not “technically feasible”, besides being unfair and illegal to expect that they could block all contents which can be reached through its search engine.
The ministry has requested the court to direct these search engines to submit the details of monetary gains made by them by providing URLs and sponsored links on the same web page showing keyword search results violative of the Act. The PIL is likely to come up for hearing in the last week of January.

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