India: Court Forces Web Firms to Remove “Objectionable” Content

by Reporters Without Borders    /  February 11, 2012  / No comments

Several Internet companies, including the Indian subsidiaries of Google and Facebook, announced on 6 February that they had complied with Indian court directives to remove from their sites content deemed objectionable.

At a hearing in New Delhi civil court on that day, a judge ordered 22 firms to provide a detailed report within two weeks on the steps they were taking to remove “offensive” content. The firms, including Google, Yahoo, Facebook, YouTube, Blogspot, the Orkut social network and the forum eXBii, had been given until 6 February to remove all offensive material.

“The escalation of ‘cleansing’ and monitoring of the Internet in India continues apace,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“We call on the Indian courts to refrain from excessive directives such as the order to Web firms to remove objectionable content. They must stop forcing these collaborative sites to set up a filtering system and, as in the case of content deemed offensive, to take steps that would be harmful to online freedom of expression.

“The most recent legislation on the subject, the “IT Rules”, must be amended so that they do not become an instrument of censorship and repression.”

CONTENT TAKEN DOWN

A spokesman for Google India announced on 6 February that some offensive content had been taken down from its Indian search engine and removed from the Indian servers of YouTube, Blogger and Orkut.

The nature of the content was not specified, although it was believed to be images that were offensive to some religious groups. Reports Without Borders calls on the company to give details of the content concerned in the Google Transparency Report, where it lists content that has been removed at the request of a government

The parent company of Facebook, for its part, said it could not comply with the demands of the Indian courts since its servers were located in the United States. Yahoo, Microsoft and Google have asked for the allegations against their sites to be withdrawn since they are not responsible for content hosted on their Indian servers.

CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS AGAINST THE COMPANIES

In parallel with the civil case, criminal proceedings were launched against the same Internet companies by a Hindu journalist, Vinay Rai, also on the grounds that they are hosting objectionable content.

Google India notified the Delhi High Court on 23 December that it would appeal. Reporters Without Borders calls on the court not to force Web firms to assume responsibility for content posted on sites by third parties and to drop the criminal case. A hearing is scheduled for 14 February.

The authorities are stepping up their control of information on the pretext of cleansing India’s Internet of content that might fan religious or social tension. According the IT Rules established last year, Internet companies must remove all banned content within 36 hours following notification by the authorities, without a prior court decision as would normally be required.

India fell nine places to 131st of 178 countries in the 2011-2012 world press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

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