Indian Government to regulate internet content

New Delhi, Dec 6: The government will not allow social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to host “objectionable” content and will take steps to screen and remove such stuff, Union Communications Minister Kapil Sibal said Tuesday.
Sibal issued the fresh warning a day after representatives from Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft during a meeting with him declined to remove the “offensive” content.
Sibal said if the social networking sites are not willing to cooperate with the government on stopping incendiary material “then it is the duty of the government to think of steps that we need.”
Sibal made the announcement at a hurriedly convened press conference here against backdrop of offensive material, particularly against Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was put on the net. The minister said his request for cooperation from them (representatives of social networking and other sites) fell on “deaf ears” and “we will not allow intermediaries to say that we threw up our hands and cannot do anything about it.”
Even as Sibal defended the government’s move, criticism poured in the cyber space that India should not emulate countries like China in attempting to gag freedom of expression.
Sibal said some of the content available on these sites could hurt the religious sentiments of a large section of communities in India. “Religious sentiments of many communities and of any reasonable person is being hurt because of content which is on the sites,” he told reporters.
The minister said he had first met with officials of Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Orkut on September 5 to discuss the concerns of the government over objectionable pictures being posted on their sites by users.
The pictures, which were shown off the record, depicted Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in bad light, while some others were insulting to various religions.
“Nobody minds satirical image of any public personality but if you show a certain form of me, that is not acceptable. Even individuals should be protected,” said Sibal.
The minister said these firms were hesitant to even share information relating to militant activities.
“They will have to give us data. We will ask them to give information. Allow us time to deal with it. But one thing is sure we will not allow this kind of content,” Sibal said on being asked about the contours of the action to be taken.
After a series of meetings, the internet companies did not provide a solution to the problem and did not remove the content either, saying that they will take any action only if the ministry came with court orders.
The minister said he did not want to come to the press on this issue but was forced to do so after the New York Times reported that the government was trying to censor these sites, which was not true.
“This is far from the truth. If someone does not want to remove this kind of incendiary material then the government has to do something about it,” said Sibal.
According to the minister these platforms should evolve a mechanism on their own to ensure that such contents are removed as soon as they get to know of it the government never wanted to interface.
Google, Facebook Clarify:
Google India in a statement Tuesday said that it follows the law and also give people as much access to information. “We follow the law when it comes to illegal content. And even where content is legal but breaks our own terms and conditions we take that down too, once we’ve been notified about it,”Google India spokesperson said.
Google, however, stressed that, “When content is legal but controversial we don’t remove it because people’s differing views should be respected, so long as they are legal.”
Earlier Facebook had in a statement said that they “will remove any content that violates our terms, which are designed to keep material that is hateful, threatening, incites violence or contains nudity off the service.” Facebook said they recognised the government’s interest in minimising the amount of abusive content that is available online and will continue to engage with the Indian authorities as they debate on the issue.


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