Even as the anti-SOPA protests continue to gain momentum in the US, time may have come for a similar campaign in India. A Delhi High Court judge, while hearing a criminal complaint against Google, Facebook and other online services, threatened to block all such websites “like China”. This comes just weeks after Kapil Sibal, India’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, courted controversy by asking Facebook and Google to pre-screen content.
The latest controversy began when, Vinay Rai, the editor of an Urdu-language newspaper, moved the lower court to prosecute 21 websites on which he discovered objectionable content. Speaking to the WSJ, Rai stated that the content he found “offends several religions including Hinduism, Islam and Christianity” and “involves pages and groups where users have mocked Hindu gods and goddesses, Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ”. In response, the trial court issued summons to the concerned organizations, which were approved by the Ministry of External Affairs.
“The sanctioning authority has personally gone through the entire records and materials produced before him and after considering and examining the same, he is satisfied that there is sufficient material to proceed against the accused persons under section 153-A, 153-B and 295-A of the IPC,” the Government said in its report.
Google, Facebook, and several others named in the complaint moved the High Court to seek exemption from the trial court as a similar case was already pending with the High Court. However, the HC judge – Justice Suresh Kait, not only refused to stay the trial court proceedings, but also threatened to go the China way if web-services didn’t clean up their act. He asked websites to develop a mechanism to keep a check and remove offensive and objectionable material from their web pages.
As you might expect, the court’s remark sent alarm bells ringing and have elicited sharp criticism both within and outside the country. Google’s advocate N K Kaul, remarked, “The issue relates to a constitutional issue of freedom of speech and expression and suppressing it was not possible as the right to freedom of speech in democratic India separates us from a totalitarian regime like China”. Manoj Nigam, VP-IT, Vodafone India, termed the demand to monitor and remove content “slightly absurd”, while Tamal Chakravarthy, CIO of Ericsson India believes that “Its (sic) highly improbable that such an act would come into existence”.