‘Offensive’ SC judgement cites Wikipedia to define legal term. This headline caught my attention instantly. Infact, it did make me think how the world has changed tremendously, thanks to the Worldwide Web. But leaving aside the development, the question that pops up in my head is that ‘Is Wikipedia really a credible source for legal proceedings?’.

In a recent Supreme Court of India judgement, while defining ‘Common Marriage Law’ Justice Katju referred to Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia . What was most shocking was that this encyclopaedia that can be edited by anyone was considered trustworthy. According to a news report on Indiankanoon.org, Wikipedia has been used at least 63 times in Supreme Court judgements.

A Mint editorial said: “Wikipedia is mutable, easily changed by its users; the Wikipedia page seen by judges when preparing a verdict can be different from that seen by readers 10 minutes or six months or seven years hence. A court that can quote Flaubert and Tolstoy should surely be able to call up more lasting, reliable resources than Wikipedia.”

This transition from tradition to modernity has shocked the entire judicial community. Even, lawyers who are tech-savvy have not really appreciated this move.

Wikipedia itself follows the principle of free-content. In fact, Wikipedia itself answers the question ‘Who is responsible for articles on Wikipedia?’ by saying ‘You are’. So very clearly, the lawyers cannot rely on its authenticity. And Supreme Court, being the highest court of order in India, cannot be so irresponsible.

The courts normally give more importance to statutory definitions and reliable sources produced by veterans in their respective fields. Indian courts have almost always been dependent on books and journals whose reputation has been firmly established. In the US ,there is the “Bluebook” that has a framework of rules and regulations and explains legal procedures.

“Given that anyone can edit any article, it is, of course, possible for biased, out of date, or incorrect information to be posted,” Wikipedia says rather candidly.Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers all over the world. This information can be misinterpreted or biased too. So how can one conveniently rely on it?

Wikipedia itself states this “Users should be aware that not all articles are of encyclopedic quality from the start, and may contain false or debatable information.Allowing anyone to edit Wikipedia means that it is more easily vandalized or susceptible to unchecked information, which requires removal.”
Wikipedia has had a few cases that have made people question its authenticity. One such case case is when writer John Seigenthaler was falsely blamed in 2005, of being involved in the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert, by a Nashville delivery driver playing a joke on a colleague. This really upset him.
Considering its vulnerability, there should not be reliance on any such online source. It reflects immaturity and breeds ground for laziness. And India, being at the apex in legal matters, must ponder over its reputation and then take a decision like this. The issue is not only restricted to India but abroad as well. This practice must be discouraged as soon as possible.
Wikipedia has always been loved. Wikipedia has always been made sharing fun. So lets keep it away from anything serious.

 

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Last week, Google was in the news for a major security breach which shocked the whole world. The Internet giant collected millions of passwords, websites and emails for commercial gain. The Information Commissioner’s Office probed into Google’s spying on British emails, but it was not clear if the information collected was only during their Street View Project.

Google has in fact admitted to collecting information from unsecured wireless networks as a part of their Street View project. But no reliable information is available regarding their real motive for doing so.

A New York Times article said that said ICO officials were waiting for the result of overseas inquiries before deciding whether to consider using its enforcement powers or not. The organization has plans to even ban Google in the UK, in case Google commits any more criminal offence.

The spokesperson of the ICO explained: “While the information we saw at the time did not include meaningful personal details that could be linked to an identifiable person, we have continued to liaise with, and await the findings of, the investigations carried out by our international counterparts.

“Now that these findings are starting to emerge, we understand that Google has accepted that in some instances entire URLs and emails and passwords have been captured.

In fact, the United States Federal Trade Commission is against the use of direct action in Google’s case. FTC along with the ICO plan to form a team of technology experts to look into the privacy issues and set a standard code.

This move by the FTC was made when they were assured that Google would not commit such a grave mistake in the future; it was quite satisfied with its promises. Street View, which has gained prominence because of this controversy, is not a new invention.

Street View was first launched in 2006 – a state-of-the-art technology used to view panoramic street scenes on the World Wide Web was an instant hit. After it scooped up data from wireless data networks in the UK, Google promised to tighten its privacy measures.

It plans to adopt a slew of measures to incorporate its plan of action. Firstly, Alma Whitten is the new Director of privacy who plans to enhance privacy training and “security awareness”.  Also, a privacy design document will be created which would enlist all the measures taken by the company.

The FTC is pleased with Google’s move to delete all the collected private data as soon as possible. As of now, the Street View project is on hold for obvious reasons.

Google has already marred its reputation in the last few years. It is facing civil suits in Oregon and other US states and has incurred heavy losses. A number of countries like Germany and Canada have taken action against the use of Street View cars. Google faces potential fines of up to 180,000 euros ($252,000) for violating the new Italian curbs.
In Germany, Google blocked images of houses to protect the private lives of its citizens.

Alan Eustace, Vice President, Engineering and Research, Google wrote on the Google Privacy Blog: ‘Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to update one point in my May blog post. When I wrote it, no one inside Google had analyzed in detail the data we had mistakenly collected, so we did not know for sure what the disks contained. Since then a number of external regulators have inspected the data as part of their investigations (seven of which have now been concluded). It’s clear from those inspections that while most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs were captured, as well as passwords. We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and I would like to apologize again for the fact that we collected it in the first place. We are mortified by what happened, but confident that these changes to our processes and structure will significantly improve our internal privacy and security practices for the benefit of all our users.’

How is it possible that the data was not collected intentionally? Isn’t that a queer remark?

Will Google be able to get back its spotless image? Only time will tell.

While reading the newspaper last Sunday, I added a new word to my vocabulary, ‘Googling’. Now what exactly is this? Googling simply refers to using the Google search engine to obtain information from the web. As fancy as it may sound, Google is not only  in the news for the tremendous revolution it has brought about in our lives but also since its reputation is at stake with the number of security breaches on the rise.

In what could be called a major security breach,  Internet search engine ‘Google’ has admitted to spying on British e-mails and passwords across households. The company has apologized for downloading data across wireless networks when its vehicles crossed residential areas for its Street View project. For those who are not aware of this project, Street View is a snazzy technology featured in Google Maps and Google Earth that provides panoramic views from various positions along many streets in the world.

But is such a technology worthwhile if there is serious disruption of privacy? John Simpson, a veteran UK journalist, who became the head of an independent Consumer Watchdog  found out that Google tracks every move that its users make. A number of countries have already sensed the danger. Greece has banned drivers of Street View cars while the Canadian government has served Google a reprimand.

The situation is a scandal. Is Google trying to overpower our life or is this just another way to promote its brand? Whatever it is trying to do is illegal. This recent news has alarmed the whole globe. Imagine being followed by someone all the time? Doesn’t it send shivers down your spine?

Many homemakers have complained that cameras were installed over the hedges and fences to record images of their residence. “It’s clear from those inspections that while most of the data is fragmentary, in some instances entire emails and URLs (web addresses) were captured, as well as passwords. We want to delete this data as soon as possible, and I would like to apologise again for the fact that we collected it in the first place,” Alan Eustace, Google’s Vice-President of engineering and research, was quoted as saying.

Google is so powerful that it will know your next dentist’s appointment or an appointment with the passport office. The issue has now become prominent. But in earlier times, a citizen didnt care too much  about disclosing one’s private information to a faceless employee. But presently due to the advent of the Internet, privacy is a far-fetched dream.

Since nothing much can be done about this, there is just one ideal solution. Even if Google hijacks all the information, it must make sure that the information is not misused. The main goal must be transparency here. The company must disclose to each and every user to whom the information is actually passed on.

As George Eliot rightly says, ” There is no private life that has not been determined by a wider public life.”