If you can’t fight criticism, confiscate the medium. This is Indian government’s motto in fighting “aggressive political and religious thoughts” of Indian internet users. The campaign went beyond common sense, ordering Internet behemoths to remove objectionable content following court orders. Despite sound arguments from Facebook and Google India officials, Indian government asked 22 Internet companies to remove inflammatory material before February 6th 2012.
Google India responded quickly from a technical flank – permanently redirecting all blogspot blogs in India to a .in TLD. The search giant can thus easily fetch the alleged “inappropriate content” to users across the globe, while the same page can be blocked for Indian users only. This is equivalent to curbing free speech and by no means, adheres to democracy.
While everyone awaits the official words from 22 Internet companies before February 22nd 2012, Indian Telecom minister Kapil Sibal, has now said that social websites in India would not face censorship.
“I want to say once and for all, without any obfuscation, no government in India will ever censor social media,” Telecom minister Kapil Sibal said, while inaugurating the three-day Nasscom India Leadership Forum today. “I never wanted to censor social media and no government wants to do so. But like the print and electronic media, they have to obey the laws of the country,” he added.
Late 2011, Mr. Sibal, along with Indian cyber experts, were in talks with Facebook and Google India officials to discuss the possibility of pre-screening user generated content. The government showed executives obscene and vulgar images defaming religious leaders, politicians, which could ignite communal riots or lead to social chaos. Mr Sibal had shown journalists illustrations that portrayed congress leader Mrs Sonia Gandhi and present Indian prime minister Mr. Manmohan Singh in compromising positions, as well as a site showing pigs running through Islam’s holy city of Mecca.
Despite the logical response that neither the search engine nor the social network actually “produces the content”, 19 internet firms were targeted under civil cases in New Delhi high court, holding them responsible for the content available on their platforms.
According to the laws of the land, all internet companies operating in India are obliged by law to hand over user information to government authorities. But how all the user generated content should be monitored and what type of content is considered inappropriate, remains a subject waiting to be finalized. A real time internet monitoring system for all Indian users? You’ve got to be kidding me!