SC notice to Centre on plea for mechanism to verify social media profiles, regulate minors’ access

The Supreme Court Tuesday sought the Centre’s response on a plea seeking directions for formulation of laws to regulate minors’ access to social media, a mechanism to verify profiles and criminalise morphing and revenge porn.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde agreed to hear the matter and issued notices to the Centre and others on the plea seeking a direction to the Union Law Ministry to formulate a gender-neutral legislation or to amend existing laws to expressly criminalise revenge porn, morphing and impersonation.

“Issue notice,” said the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

The plea, filed by two law students Skand Bajpai and Abhyudaya Mishra, has sought direction to the Centre to institute proper investigation and legal proceedings against users of social media profiles who indulge in advertisement, sale and procurement of illicit content like rape videos and private graphic information, and also to ensure their deletion.

It said the government should formulate an efficient mechanism to deal with such content in future.

The plea has said that the Law Ministry should be directed to formulate appropriate laws or amend the existing laws to increase the accountability of intermediaries towards Indian jurisdictions, encourage mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse materials and also to make them liable with regard to the content featured on their platforms.

“There is no law governing age eligibility for using social media in India. The United States of America has a legislation on this subject matter titled as Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act’, wherein the consent of parents or guardians of children below the age of 13 years is taken into consideration while processing data belonging to minors, however this also does not create any age related barrier in access to social media or internet,” it said.

Referring to a report published by a Delhi based NGO in April this year, the plea said it has stated that there has been a surge in the search for key words like child porn’.

The plea said availability of child sexual abuse materials, rape videos and private graphic on social media violates the right to control dissemination of personal information by affected individuals, infringing their right to privacy.

It said concept of revenge porn, online sale of private graphic information and such contents on social media has created a “harassing, exploitative and paedophilic environment” on these platforms.

“There is a need to uproot fake social media profiles and catfish accounts and devise a mechanism for verification of these social media profiles as multiplicity of accounts and unverified profiles promote anonymity and impersonation. It makes it gruelling for the law enforcement agencies to trace a cyber offender,” the plea said.

It said that verified social media profiles would encourage accountability and deter individuals from engaging themselves in offences in the virtual world.

It claimed that incidents of online morphed pictures and videos have been increasing and there is a need to curb this as it leads to harassment and exploitation.

“There is a need to hold the intermediaries liable and accountable for the content featuring on their platform and increase their coordination and accountability with regard to Indian jurisdictions,” it said.

The plea claimed that no action has yet been taken on the report by the Ad-hoc committee of the Rajya Sabha to study the alarming issue of pornography on social media and its effect on society as a whole.

It has also sought a direction to the authorities to notify and enforce the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines (Amendment) Rules) 2018.

It said concerned authorities should be directed to upgrade the national education policy and inculcate adolescent sex education as a compulsory subject and also to introduce a subject related to online safety, security and conduct.

The plea said the Law ministry should be directed to “formulate an appropriate law regulating minors’ access to social media and laying down appropriate age limit for such access in consonance with the present Indian legal framework.”

It alleged that people have been purchasing, selling and transmitting private graphic information, rape videos and other such contents of unidentified people on social media platforms in exchange of money received through e-wallets and UPI transactions.

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