The Indian government has given the green light for the prosecution of "21 social networking sites." The list features 10 foreign-based companies, and could affect websites provided by Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and YouTube. The recent development is part of an ongoing argument between the companies and India over whether content should be regulated (read: censored) in the country. The approval was actually made on December 23, 2011, but was only revealed today.
Earlier this week, Delhi's High Court warned various companies they will be blocked in India if they fail to check and censor content. When counsel for Facebook and Google pointed to their global policy of non-interference even if content posted on their services are found to be obscene or objectionable, the court told the Internet firms that this policy won't work in India. "Like China, we too can block such websites," said Justice Suresh Kait.
Before today's news, I got in touch with Manan Kakkar, ZDNet's journalist for all things related to India, and he told me he wasn't interested in the story. "But just as a side note, it's not India that's made the threat but a high court judge in a city," Kakkar told me "Then there's the Supreme Court above this so I'm not giving much credence to this." He then pointed out Google said it can't censor such content and I remembered Facebook also said it won't help India censor the Web.
This all changed, however, when Kakkar followed up to tell me the Indian government today sanctioned the court's stance. "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 report said according to IBN Live.
Earlier in the day, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo India, and others had sought exemption from the Delhi court because they argued the matter is still pending before the High Court. After the counsel said over 10 out of 21 companies named as accused in the case were foreign-based, the court agreed it had to it had to serve the summons on them, which came in the form of a two-page report from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
That's when the approval from the Indian government was revealed. While this is a big deal, the case is far from over. "Let the process (to serve the summons) on (foreign- based) accused be sent through the MEA as per the process," Metropolitan Magistrate Sudesh Kumar said. "The accused are allowed exemption for today only but are directed to appear in person on the next date of hearing without fail." The next hearing is scheduled for March 13, 2012.
The case first began with a private complaint filed by journalist Vinay Rai against these firms for allegedly webcasting objectionable content. More specifically, he complained about images deemed offensive to Christians, Hindus, and Muslims. Representatives of the 21 companies were thus summoned to court and a long proceeding began. Despite the statement about China, I hope India won't go down the same path.
- Indian court warns 'China-like censorship' for Google, Facebook, others
- Facebook tells India it won't help censor the Web
- Google upgrades personal search: Social silos persist
- Indian govt. piggy backs on religion to censor the web
- After Facebook and Google respond, IT minister backtracks on pre-screening content
- China Censors 60K Websites, 350+ Million Pages, Proud Of It