The Supreme Court directed search engines Google, Microsoft and Yahoo not to advertise, or sponsor any advertisement, on India-centric sex determination tests that are in breach of statutory provisions on Wednesday.
"As an interim measure, it is directed, the respondents, namely, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft shall not advertise or sponsor any advertisement which would violate section 22 of the PCPNDT Act, 1994," the bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Prafulla C. Pant said in their order.
The court also directed the three companies to withdraw forthwith if they were carrying any such advertisements.
"If any advertisement is there on any search engine, the same shall be withdrawn forthwith by the respondent," said Justice Dipak Misra.
Section 22 of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994, prohibits advertisements related to pre-natal determination of sex and provides for punishment for contravention.
Directing the listing of the matter for further hearing Feb 4, the court directed Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to carry out its order on their respective policy pages and terms of service.
The interim order came during the hearing of a petition by Sabu Mathew George that sought direction for prohibiting sex determination test advertisements on internet.
The court order came after the central government said the three search engines have "relevant technology and deep-domain knowledge and expertise to block/filter the words/phrases/expressions and sponsored links".
"India is suffering so much because of the skewed sex ratio, still there is state of antipathy. You must provide information to government of India," Justice Misra said.
Appearing for Google, counsel Shyam Divan told the court that the internet was an uncensored medium and "ordering the blocking of the information is very dangerous as it amounts to pre-censorship".
Saying that censorship and legal provisions were two different things, the court said "anything can take the colour and flavour of advertisement. Human mind is ingenious and there is a scope for mischief".
Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar told the court it could block or filter the information promoting sex selection and eventual abortion only if the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) and IP (Internet Protocol) address is known.
He said the exact URLs could be provided by the three search engines to block them at internet gateway for India.
Explaining the difficulties in blocking or filtering the information based on "key word search result", the central government urged the court to ask the three search engines to "provide details of measure adopted by them, so far, to block/filter keywords and sponsored links violative of PC-PNDT Act and amendments thereof".
Divan told the court that Google has already clamped down on such advertisements promoting sex determination techniques.
He said if some of them slip in, then they would be removed on specific information.
Counsel Sanjay Parikh, who appeared for petitioner Mathew George, told the court that throughout the world, the search engines have been directed to block certain services or information which were not permissible to be shown in that country despite the issues of jurisdiction and technical problems being raised.
Parikh told the court that he would file a convenience volume of such judgments before Feb 4, the next date of hearing.