After Facebook and Google respond, IT minister backtracks on pre-screening content

To insanity and back.
Written by Manan Kakkar, Contributor

In case you did not know, India's Communications and IT minister has been having a lot of serious fun. He wants user generated content shared on networks like Twitter, Google and Facebook to be pre-screened for potentially offensive material.

If content posted is found to be sensitive to the communal moral police, it shouldn't be made public. As the reports and Kapil Sibal's comments explained, the government doesn't want to curb freedom of speech but they want the tech companies to pre-screen and censor information. The government will work with the tech companies to develop a framework. This is the government categorically not curbing freedom of speech. After yesterday's charged press conference, Google and Facebook have issued statements on their respective stands.

A representative of Facebook talking about the issue told CNN-IBN, "We want Facebook to be a place where people can discuss things freely, while respecting the rights and feelings of others, which is why we have already have policies and on-site features in place that enable people to report abusive content. We will remove any content that violates our terms, which are designed to keep material that is hateful, threatening, incites violence or contains nudity off the service. We recognize the government's interest in minimizing the amount of abusive content that is available online and will continue to engage with the Indian authorities as they debate this important issue". Facebook has been on the lookout for a lobbyist in the Delhi to help the company make good relations with the government.

Google on the other hand has been a rather more blunt on the issue. As a company, Google has had its share of government vs censorship challenges in China. It came to the point of Google willing to stop doing business in the country; calmer minds prevailed though. In a statement issued by company spokesperson Google categorically said they will not censor content simply because it is controversial. The representative said, "We work really hard to make sure that people have as much access to information as possible, while also following the law. This means that when content is illegal, we abide by local law and take it down. And even where content is legal but breaks or violates our own terms and conditions we take that down too, once we have been notified about it, but when content is legal and does not violate our policies, we will not remove it just because it is controversial, as we believe that people's differing views, so long as they are legal, should be respected and protected."

The government's idea to pre-screen content is hilarious to say the least. Devising any framework that restricts the citizens of a nation to speak freely goes against the fundamental right in a democracy. If one believes that something said by someone is in bad taste, there is the law. The IT minister seems to have had an epiphany. In an interview to NDTV he has backtracked on his plan to have the companies pre-screen the content. According to him no sane person can ask for something that's not on the web yet to be screened.

Kapil Sibal's interview with NDTV's Barkha Dutt

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