Friday, November 13, 2009

Anonymization of Court Judgments

Indian Kanoon has been pretty useful for people seeking information on Indian Law. Over time Indian Kanoon reputation on general search engines like google and yahoo improved and as a result pages from Indian Kanoon started surfacing in the top few of search results. So one completely inadvertent thing that happened was that people would go on google/yahoo and type someone's name and see the indiankanoon court judgment related to that person. As many of these judgments are on issue that may be societally bad, many people started feeling embarrassed by their court judgments. To be fair in many cases these people were right. But definitely one has to read the judgments to realize that.

The next thing that happened was that many folks sent me legal threats that I should remove court judgments corresponding to them. Some even claimed that they are currently citizen of countries in which such information is private and I should remove these documents immediately. A few nuanced requests only asked for restricting search engines from indexing these documents by putting these URLs under robots.txt.

As court judgments constitute public records, removing them from the website was out of question. However, restricting generic search engines from indexing such judgments was not that bad. One problem is that someone may be looking for information on a person and he or she will miss that because it is not indexed by generic search engines. After all a person acquitted by a court judgment is only legally right and societal or individual values may differ. So people should be free to decide on the issue by reading these court judgments. The second issue is that these court judgments also brings new users to Indian Kanoon and make them more knowledgable about law. So till now I have been doing nothing with such requests.

Recently a law suit has been filed in Andhra Pradesh High Court seeking for name anonymization in one of the court judgments. The order is here. That particular court judgment refers to a copyright infringement case related to a woman. It seems strange that court will ask to anonymize the name in this case as it does not relate to a woman being a victim of a sexual nature and not a minor. However, the AP high court has taken up this writ petition and it seems possible that the court may decide in the favor of plaintiff.

One question that is of interest is what is the bar for name anonymization in court judgments. It seems like if there is no such bar, then no one would want their name on the records. My search on Indian Kanoon did not reveal much as it seems like this issue has not been addressed in depth till now.

The search on IK reveals a bunch of cases when names have been withheld:"name+withheld"

However, almost all of these cases are when a woman is a victim of sexual nature. So it will be interesting to know if the courts order anonymization in cases related to copyright infringement.