India refutes claims of Web censorship

Indian minister says country will not block any online content unless it flouts Indian laws; adds that censorship debate has blown out of proportion.

An Indian minister has publicly refuted claims that the country wants to implement Web censorship in a manner similar to China, noting that the heated legal debate between India and global Internet giants has been blown out of proportion.

"We don't want to get into the business of censoring any media--we can't do it, and we don't want to," Milind Deora, Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology, said in a blog entry posted on India Real Time of The Wall Street Journal. "No one is saying we're going to shut any of these companies down."

He said the government was only trying to ensure Indians would seek to remove Web content deemed to run afoul of Indian laws governing defamation, obscenity or other types of objectionable material. "We have to ensure the law gives someone recourse."

According to Deora, the controversy over the Web censorship issue had been blown out of proportion in the media and created undue sense of panic that the government would imminently shut down Web sites. "Someone went to court and it became sensationalized," he said in the post. "When it all settles down, we'll sit down with these guys again and figure out the best solution."

Noting that India had its "own unique naunces", the minister added: "We want solutions that allow the [Internet] medium to be free and fair, but also allow people to participate in a way that conforms with the laws of the land."

Deora's remarks come several weeks after the Delhi High Court issued Facebook and Google with a warning that their sites could be blocked if they did not develop a mechanism to keep checks and remove "offensive and objectionable material" from their Web pages. "Like China, we will block all such Web sites," Justice Suresh Kait said in a Times of India report.

In December last year, the Indian government demanded that Web companies pre-screened user content in the country and removed disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory material before any of it was posted online. Earlier this month, Indian journalist Vinay Rai filed a criminal lawsuit against Web companies including Google and Facebook for not removing objectionable content on their sites.