The Delhi High Court’s demand for a response from the Centre on a petition filed by the former BJP ideologue KN Govindacharya, asking how children and minors below 18 years of age are allowed to open accounts on social networking sites such as Facebook, or email servers like Google, has hit a can of worms as far as the intricacies of online operations are concerned. The petition hinges on the fact that opening an account with the social media and email websites runs in contradiction to the Indian Majority Act, the Indian Contract Act and even the Information and Technology Act. The petition has also sought the creation of a ‘national register’ of persons indulging in sexual offences and heinous crimes and barring such persons to create online personas or have cyber accounts in networking websites. This move is bound to stir the hornet’s nest, particularly because the realm of cyber laws and cyber security is still so nebulous and undefined, not only within India, but also in the world at large, including in the US, where experts are grappling with the issues at hand. While Govindacharya’s petition harps on the privacy concerns and so-called safety of data entered by more than 50 million Indian users, it squarely uses the garb of the ‘commercial gains’ of the companies owning the social media websites in ‘violation of the right to privacy’ to thrust its own censorious agenda to crackdown sexually explicit materials that are available on websites.
While it is true that crimes against women and children have risen to an alarmingly high level in recent years, all the blame cannot be placed on the mere availability of pornographic or sexually titillating videos, images and other items online or otherwise. Worldwide, sections of society have tried to hold everything else culpable for the rising attacks on women, such as prostitution, open sexual mores, increasing divorce rates, and even homosexuality, calling each of these phenomena as signs of moral and cultural depravity. Only the medium of availability has changed in the recent years, with the advent of the internet and social media websites. While it is true that children’s access to the murky world of the internet must be regulated, cutting them off completely would in fact have a debilitating effect on their overall psychological and mental development. The fact of the matter is that cyber communication is an integral part of today’s interpersonal contact, and it is an absurd idea to bar children and teenagers from accessing the online world, as most of the debates, discussions and innovations in terms of radical ideas in subjects as various as politics, technology, or cinema and entertainment happen on the cyber forums. Wholesale censorship and an online apartheid on the basis of one’s age is a facile and ludicrous idea, to say the least, although formulating laws to facilitate regulated and guided admission would still be a tough task to implement.