The Bombay High Court recently issued an ex-parte interim injunction against entities operating fake websites posing as authorized PAN card service providers on behalf of UTI Infrastructure Technology and Services Limited (UTIITSL). The court emphasized the national importance of PAN services and expressed concern about the potential misuse that could be highly detrimental to both UTIITSL and the national interest. This move comes in response to UTIITSL’s claims of copyright infringement and passing off of trademarks by unknown entities masquerading as authorized agents.
National Level Threat: Court’s Perspective
Justice Bharati Dangre, in her order dated January 12, highlighted the gravity of the situation, terming it a “national level threat.” The court emphasized that the Union government mandates linking PAN cards with Aadhar cards, making any misuse of the authorization a severe risk not only to the company but also to the nation. The court’s decision to issue an interim ex-parte order without serving the defendants reflects the urgency of the matter. The court observed that allowing fake websites to remain active could cause irreparable damage and compromise valuable confidential data, posing a significant threat at a national level.
UTIITSL’s Exclusive Authorization and Claims
UTIITSL asserted its exclusive authorization by the Income Tax Department for processing PAN and related services since 2003. The company argued that services offered by entities other than itself and Protean eGov Technologies Limited (formerly NSDL eGov) are dubious. Rashmin Khandekar, UTIITSL’s counsel, highlighted the company’s IT system designed to detect and investigate such fake websites. UTIITSL expressed concerns that unauthorized domains may not only mislead the public but could also be involved in printing and issuing fake PAN cards by deceitfully collecting personal and confidential data.
Illegality Confirmed: Court’s Verdict
Justice Dangre affirmed the illegality of the conduct, asserting that unknown entities behind these websites “deserve to be restrained.” The court recognized UTIITSL’s exclusive copyright and trademark rights, emphasizing that such rights exclusively belong to the company. Due to the difficulty in identifying and serving all potential defendants, the interim order restrains both known and unknown entities from infringing UTIITSL’s copyright, passing off its trademarks, and misleading the public into believing they are authorized PAN service agents. Domain registrars have been directed to disable identified fake websites, and police authorities are mandated to assist in enforcing the order.
National Importance of PAN System
The court underscored the national importance of the PAN system, describing it as the cornerstone of a robust financial and economic system. PAN-related services play a pivotal role in fostering fiscal discipline, ensuring a transparent economic framework, and streamlining tax recovery and payment processes. The court emphasized that PAN is mandatory for tracking financial transactions, preventing tax evasion, and providing a universal identification key for individuals and entities.
Protecting Citizens: UTIITSL’s Plea
UTIITSL, in its application, emphasized that defendants, by providing unauthorized identical services, collect personal and confidential data, sometimes misleading individuals into making payments and fabricating public documents. The court acknowledged the necessity of PAN cards for tracking and maintaining records of financial transactions and preventing tax evasion. The interim order remains in effect until the further hearing scheduled for February 20.
The Bombay High Court’s decisive action against fake PAN card services reflects the growing threat of cyber fraud and the judiciary’s commitment to protecting national interests and citizens’ data. As technology advances, so do the challenges in safeguarding sensitive information. This case serves as a stark reminder of the importance of cybersecurity measures and the need for judicial awareness in combating online threats. The court’s proactive stance sets a precedent for addressing similar issues in the future, sending a clear message that impersonation and cyber fraud will not be tolerated.