Friday, January 13, 2012

Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo Etc Summoned Before Indian Court

There are certain offences against the State that cannot be tried by any court in India till central/state government grants its permission. Such permission is granted under section 196 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973 and once granted certain criminal offense committed against a nation/state can be prosecuted.

Lack of cyber due diligence and weak arguments before the Delhi High court has brought a situation where websites like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc would have to face criminal trial in India. The Indian government has sanctioned prosecution of social networking sites like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo India over objectionable content on their sites and with this the criminal trial process has begun. Even these websites may be blocked in India if they fail to comply with Indian laws.

Meanwhile, the trial court adjourned the matter till March 13, 2012. The trial court has also directed the external affairs ministry to serve the summons issued to foreign-based social networking sites. With this the excuse of being an Indian subsidiary is also gone and now parent companies would have to face the heat.

Indian government, while granting such permission, said “Government of India, after being satisfied that such content are violative of the provisions of the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, and after due application of judicious minds finds it appropriate to grant sanction under section 196 of CrPC to proceed against the accused persons in the aforesaid complaint in national harmony, integration and national interest”. This was said in a report submitted by the department of information technology to the trial court.

According to Praveen Dalal, managing partner of law firm Perry4Law and leading techno legal expert of India, if Websites are “Violating” Laws of India and they have been “Notified” to this effect and still they “do not Remedy the Situation”, then the Safe Harbour Protection under Indian Information Technology Act, 2000 is “Lost” and such Websites/Owners can be Prosecuted in India.

This entire situation could have been avoided by simply removing the offending contents. I do not know why websites failed to consider such request. Even otherwise when such a media rage was raised over the issue, there was nothing that prevented such websites to remove the offending contents on their own. Now these websites cannot even claim that they had no knowledge of such offending contents.

The best option for these websites seems to be to remove the infringing material and report to the concerned courts. The sooner they do it the better it would be to diffuse this tension and situation.