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Baazee case: Making sense of nonsense

By Captain Raghu Raman
Last updated on: December 20, 2004 18:16 IST
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India has certainly got to be the safest country to do e-business in. And that is because our law enforcers can swoop down upon the CEO of an e-commerce company within weeks of his company hosting the entry of a CD that purportedly contained clippings of some extra-curricular activities of school students.

After all, CEO Avnish Bajaj just has about 70,000 entries a day which his company needs to check for their content and authenticity to comply with the stipulations of the IT Act!

But then the same logic should throw the editor of major dailies into jail, because their newspapers provide advertisements for escort services. How about jailing mobile companies CEOs too? After all, the underworld uses mobile networks for their nefarious activities.

No doubt a crime has been committed. But the authorities are barking up the wrong tree.

Let's examine the facts. A couple of school students were recorded indulging in oral sex.

The first crime committed was breach of privacy. Using that recording to try and generate revenue could tantamount to peddling contraband. And that is the second crime.

However, it beats me as to how the CEO of an e-commerce site has been arrested for not exercising due diligence.

Did Baazee, implicitly or explicitly, indicate that it encourages or condones sale of pornographic content? Do the authorities believe that it is realistically possible for an e-commerce site to validate each and every entry that is posted on the site?

People who advocate a technology solution to such problems don't understand technology and probably don't understand this problem either.

E-commerce sites add value to the entire transaction chain by allowing the sellers to interact directly with potential buyers. That is the fundamental principle of this reduced cost transaction model. If the company were to set up processes to examine each and every item being sold on their site, there would be no financial viability to this whole business structure.

Sure some processes are a must, like ensuring that no contraband or obviously offensive material is sold through the site. But let's face it, there are enough dedicated sites which cater to pornography which the authorities can't even begin inventorying, let alone monitoring.

A few security 'gurus' have been suggesting that Baazee should have used software that filters out offensive text. Apart from displaying how little they know both about technology and the specifics of this case; such an act would simply not be feasible. More than half the titles of books, CDs and movies would be thrown out of the site if such a 'word search' technology was used.

Let's take another perspective of this issue. A couple of years ago when India announced the formalisation of its IT Act with much fanfare it was presumed that since we now had an IT Act, cyber crime would be reduced.

That is about as practical as suggesting that once we put in the anti-eve-teasing law, eve teasing has been dealt with. I believe the authorities are dealing with the esoteric rather than the execution.

Pornographic material is freely available on the Net. Matter of fact, even legitimate sites like Hotmail and Yahoo are inundated with spam mail that force open porn sites.

So, should we begin by arresting Bill Gates next time he comes around to India? Porn is freely available in VCDs and tapes in every city. Are we even pretending this is not true? Pirated films are beamed into homes, illegal software can be bought easier than a pack of cigarettes.

But one video clip on a CD, which was not even on the servers of the e-commerce site, and which the company had no hand in making, or distributing, gets the CEO state hospitality along with murders and rapists.

It must be a comforting thought for our other young entrepreneurs who, after doing a stint in Harvard, would like to return to India like Avnish Bajaj did. India is indeed a safe country to do business in.

The author is CEO, Mahindra Special Services Group, and an information security veteran since 20 years.

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