Sabu Mathew George vs. Union of India

Document type
Court Decision

This is a 2008 case where a writ petition was filed to ban ‘advertisements’ relating to pre-natal sex determination from search engines in India. Section 22 of the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 is the operative provision.

In this case, the 'doctrine of auto-block' was an important consideration.  In its judgment dated 13th December, 2017, the Court had listed roughly 40 search terms, imposing the aforementioned standard on the respondents, stating that any attempt at looking up the banned search terms would be ‘auto-blocked’. This ruling raised concerns about intermediary liability and free speech. The 'doctrine of auto-block' could block legitimate information relating to reproductive rights and sexual health.  

To ensure compliance, the Court had also ordered (on November 16th, 2016) the creation of a nodal agency that would provide search engines with details of websites to be blocked. This nodal agency has come under criticism since it does not prescribe a review mechanism and circumvents the system of review instated by Section 69A of the IT Act.

The judgment, passed on the 13th of December, 2017, ordered the parties involved to convene a meeting, along with the aforementioned nodal agency and a previously instituted expert committee to discuss the best possible technical solutions within 6 weeks.

Topic, claim, or defense
Freedom of Expression
Document type
Court Decision
Issuing entity
Highest Domestic/National (including State) Court
OSP obligation considered
Block or Remove
Monitor or Filter