Tuesday, July 16, 2013

13-year-olds on Facebook, HC slams centre for a lack of law to protect children online

"The world has gone way ahead, we are way behind" on protection of children from online abuse, the Delhi High Court today told the Centre, lamenting lack of adequate laws to address the issue. The court's observation came even as Facebook and Google, which were asked to submit affidavits detailing measures that are available on their sites as protection against misuse, told it that they cannot physically verify the age of the - users and it is the responsibility of the legal guardians. "You (Centre) are lacking.... You are behind time," a bench of Acting Chief Justice B D Ahmed and Justice Vibhu Bhakru said while hearing a PIL questioning how children below 13 years of age can open an account on social networking sites like Facebook and Orkut.
The court made the remarks after it was told by the petitioner that in the US there is a law 'Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)' as per which a child below 13 years of age is not allowed to open an account. "Do you have any such Act for online privacy? Nothing. You are not focussed on this issue at all. The world has gone far ahead. We are way behind," the court told the Centre. The bench was hearing arguments of petitioner and former RSS idealogue K N Govindacharya's counsel Veerag Gupta that children below 18 years are getting into an agreement with the social networking sites to open an account which is against the Indian Majority Act, the Indian Contract Act and also the Information and Technology Act.

The petition also sought recovery of taxes from the web sites on their income from operations in India. Meanwhile, Facebook Inc and Google Inc submitted affidavits in the court detailing the protective measures that are available on their sites to ensure their product is not misused. They said their statement of rights and other terms and conditions prohibits children below 13 years of age from registering an account and creating more than one personal account.

They said they also have strict policies in place to delete any objectionable or misleading content they come across on their sites. They, however, told the court that they cannot physically verify the age of the users and it is the responsibility of the legal guardians. The petitioner had said due to non-verification of users, more than eight crore of Facebook users across the world were found to be "fake", which the website admitted before a US authority. He had said government was not taking any action against the foreign companies which have their Indian operations.

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