Facebook, Google argue against Web censorship in India

Facebook, Google argue against Web censorship in India

Summary: Facebook, Google, and 19 other companies have been asked to censor objectionable material in India by a lower court. Instead of complying, the Internet giants are fighting back in a higher court.

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Facebook and Google told the Delhi High Court today that they cannot block offensive content that appears on their services. The two Internet giants are among 21 companies that have been asked to develop a mechanism to block objectionable material in India, and the Indian government has given the green light for their prosecution. Although India is democratic (in fact, it's the world's largest democracy), many fear the country will resort to censorship.

Last year, India passed a law that makes companies responsible for user content posted on their websites, requiring them to take it down within 36 hours in case of a complaint. Civil rights groups are opposed to the law but politicians argue posting offensive images in the socially conservative country with a history of violence between religious groups presents a danger to the public as Internet use grows. Both Facebook and Google have previously said they can't and won't censor content in the country, but now they're asking a high court to reverse a lower court's decision.

The case causing all this brouhaha first began with a private complaint filed by journalist Vinay Rai against "21 social networking sites." The list features 10 foreign-based companies, and could affect websites provided by Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and YouTube. He complained the websites were showing images deemed offensive to Christians, Hindus, and Muslims. Representatives of the 21 companies were thus summoned to court and a long proceeding began.

Although the case was originally filed in a lower court, the companies have appealed to the Delhi High Court, challenging the lower court's ruling asking them to take down some content. Siddharth Luthra, one of Facebook's lawyers, told the court it was impossible for the social network to pre-screen and monitor everything and that instead users should be held responsible for content they post.

Google argued in a similar vein. "The search engine only takes you till the website," said Neeraj Kishan Kaul, one of Google's lawyers, according to Reuters. "What happens after that is beyond a search engine's control. "If you use blocks, which is very easy for people to say, you will inadvertently block other things as well. For example: the word 'sex'. Even a government document like a voter ID list or a passport has the word 'sex'."

The lower court has its next hearing scheduled for March 13, 2012. The high court will resume hearing the case later this week on January 19, according to Justice Suresh Kait. This is the same judge who last week threatened to block the websites if they don't comply. When the companies in question told him they have a global policy of non-interference even if content posted on their services are found to be obscene or objectionable, he responded by saying this policy won't work in India.

Kait was quoted as saying: "Like China, we too can block such websites." Today, Kaul replied, according to The Times of India: "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."

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Topics: Google, Browser, Software Development, Social Enterprise

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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11 comments
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  • RE: Facebook, Google argue against Web censorship in India

    Okay so, let me get this straight... Leaked Government Documents show RIM, Nokia and Apple working with the Indian Government on a backdoor into their systems but, Google and Facebook are fighting for Freedom of Speech? Why are these two companies seen as the bad guys all the time?
    slickjim
  • 'Merica

    All or none I say. If they want it limited, limit everything. Don't let them use Google or Facebook! This censorship crap is so old. Get with the times, and the country everyone follows. AMERICA!!!
    dcardin21
    • RE: Facebook, Google argue against Web censorship in India

      @dcardin21
      Yes, don't let Indians use google, facebook etc. That way, absence of these foreign giants will prompt Indians to develop their own alternatives to these services. If Sabeer Bhatia (an Indian) could setup hotmail in 1996 in U.S., I am sure Indians can do much more today back at home.
      Dr. Jhatka
  • This is 21st century already...

    And people still want to keep the world we share as a set of isolated islands. To me, if something is offensive, I don't browse them. Everybody knows that Internet is full of the best and the worst humans can produce. It should be up for us to make the decision to what to look, not a company, not a government.
    And they self proclaim the biggest democracy in the world... what a joke.
    FuzzyIce
  • RE: Facebook, Google argue against Web censorship in India

    If google and facebook are banned you may see a new form of violence in India.

    Angry preteens lynch judge while their parents applaud.
    Paul Krueger
  • RE: Facebook, Google argue against Web censorship in India

    If google and facebook are banned you may see a new form of violence in India.

    Angry preteens lynch judge while their parents applaud.
    Paul Krueger
  • RE: Facebook, Google argue against Web censorship in India

    As an Indian, I find this case both amusing and annoying. I trust the higher courts will set this right. As someone here said suing Google or FB for the content is equivalent to claiming damages from carrier / phone company if someone calls you and abuses. That aside the only thing companies can possibly do is warn users for an offensive or an objectionable content based on user's ratings of the content.
    snehal024
  • RE: Facebook, Google argue against Web censorship in India

    Can you imagine what censored internet wld be like? You may soon find out if you don't protest. #SOPAstrike http://uschmooze.net/the-entertainment-industry-aims-to-censor-the-internet/
    slaflora
  • RE: Facebook, Google argue against Web censorship in India

    sooooo Congress....Am i allowed to wipe my butt with my left or right hand.....? and what type of toilet paper am i allowed to use???
    mariolombardi
  • RE: Facebook, Google argue against Web censorship in India

    sooooo Congress....Am i allowed to wipe my butt with my left or right hand.....? and what type of toilet paper am i allowed to use???
    mariolombardi
  • RE: Facebook, Google argue against Web censorship in India

    like thomas jefferson said: "a country needs to revolt every 100years!" were a little over do and its really showing
    mariolombardi