Internet censorship was something we never imagined in India. There have been calls for bans on social media networks by some groups but no one really gave such ideas any real importance. Then came the bombshell from Indian Government’s Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal who first wanted internet websites to screen all their content. Screening online content is just another definition of ‘online censorship’.
Today according to this report on NDTV, a Delhi High Court Judge warned Facebook and Google that if they failed to create a mechanism to remove objectionable online content, they would block these websites like China does.
Why was the case heard in Delhi High Court?
The case against 21 internet sites like Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and more for objectionable content has been registered in Delhi High Court. These are complaints against posts and images that are objectionable. I am not a lawyer, but it is a little strange to ask for filtering of content created by billions of people every day. The case is not about removing objectionable content but filtering this content.
After the court’s observations, the government of India has also now sanctioned prosecuting these websites.
What could happen next?
The worst case scenario, is that websites like Facebook and Google cloud be blocked. I do not think Google or Facebook will adhere to any screening unless India does have a law that defines what exactly needs to be blocked, removed or screened. Personally I doubt the Indian government would like to see itself in a club that contains mostly autocratic regimes from around the world.
Also these are observations of a High Court in Delhi. The Supreme Court could also be approached to also address the issue if websites could be held accountable for content created by third parties (users).
Google and Facebook’s Defence…
Almost every social network has a procedure to remove objectionable content from its website. Another issues is India does not have a Data Protection Act which lays down privacy laws for online content. So internet companies tend to adhere to community rules from the US.
Google is not even hosting the content but only pointing to links to content written and hosted independently.
Holding websites responsible for user-generated content is the same as holding a telephone company responsible for what was discussed on the phone by users.
As someone who lives in India, a country with free press and no internet censorship, the suggestion that China is a model we want to follow – is very depressing and disheartening.
Web censorship of any kind tends to be abused and ends up killing innovation. What are your views on internet censorship and the possibility of it happening in India? Do drop in your comments.