Baazee Case Is A Wake-up Call

by Ivor Soans    Dec 21, 2004

Hugh Hefner must be happy he doesn’t do business in India. No, not because India doesn’t have a market for pornography, nor because Indian law forbids soft porn. Hugh Hefner must be happy he doesn’t do business in India because sometimes it’s so darn difficult to conduct honest business in India–whether you deal in cement or soft pornography.

And the ridiculousness of the situation is that even if you deal in cement, you could be arrested for peddling pornography. Something similar happened last week to Baazee.com CEO Avnish Bajaj.

Because someone misused Baazee’s features and cleverly beat its automated keyword-based systems that prevent trade in pornography, the Baazee CEO ended up in jail, despite him going out of his way to help the police in the particular case.

It surprises me just how the Delhi Police could come up with that gem of an argument–pornography is widely available in Delhi, and since the Delhi Police haven’t exactly seen roaring success in curbing the availability of illegal pornography on their turf, does it mean that the head of the Delhi Police force should be thrown behind bars for that?

Obviously, that’s not being fair to the Commissioner of Police in Delhi. The fact is that crime happens despite the police and in many cases the law enforcement machinery ends up merely prosecuting crime, not preventing it. So, in the (obviously rare) case of a porn peddler being arrested, the buyer and seller of porn, and the creator, if he can be traced, will be hauled up, but not the owner of the restaurant outside which they conduct business, nor the ward officer who’s in charge of the municipal ward where the street lies, nor the municipal commissioner, nor the police commissioner; well, the buck can only stop at the President of India.

So why arrest Bajaj? And especially when he co-operated with the police? A higher court today wisely saw through the stupidity of the argument being put forward by the prosecution, but the entire episode highlights the dangers for Indian e-commerce.

As an enterprise IT user, you may wonder what bearing the case has for you, but consider this: From B2B auctions to reverse auctions to supply chain management, e-commerce plays a growing role in all of these. And as an enterprise IT user, if you don’t already play a part in helping your business leverage these technologies, you soon will.

Fortunately, India has special laws for the electronic, paperless world of e-commerce, as part of our IT Act. Now, these may not be the best, and they may not be enough in some cases, but at least we’ve made a start. Unfortunately, despite these laws, some folks interpreting and enforcing these laws seem to be doing a terrible job–at least in the Baazee case.

What’s imperative is that our law makers tighten IT laws where there is scope for misuse, and the law enforcement machinery must be sensitized and educated about the unique nature and problems that arise from the world of bits and bytes–the Mumbai Police have done some highly credible work with their Cyber Cell, both in terms of law enforcement and education–perhaps their Delhi counterparts need to take some lessons from them.

And of course, as enterprise IT users we must do our bit by protesting as loud as we can when we see such deplorable situations where an innocent is harmed and the wide-ranging positive impact of technology is in danger of being derailed. God knows as a nation we desperately need all the modern technology we can get–let’s make sure nothing comes in the way of that.