Dec 052011

From the NY Times, news that Kapil Sibal, acting telecommunications minister, has been meeting with executives from Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Yahoo to tell them to prescreen user content from India and censor that which is deemed disparaging, inflammatory, or defamatory.

About six weeks ago, Mr. Sibal called legal representatives from the top Internet service providers and Facebook into his New Delhi office, said one of the executives who was briefed on the meeting.

At the meeting, Mr. Sibal showed attendees a Facebook page that maligned the Congress Party’s president, Sonia Gandhi.  “This is unacceptable,” he told attendees, the executive said, and he asked them to find a way to monitor what is posted on their sites.

In the second meeting with the same executives in late November, Mr. Sibal told them that he expected them to use human beings to screen content, not technology, the executive said.

The three executives said Mr. Sibal has told these companies that he expects them to set up a proactive prescreening system, with staffers looking for objectionable content and deleting it before it is posted.

The demand is the Indian government’s latest attempt to monitor and control electronic information. In April, the ministry issued rules demanding Internet service providers delete information posted on Web sites that officials or private citizens deemed disparaging or harassing. Last year, the government battled with Blackberry’s manufacturer, Research In Motion, threatening to shut the company’s service off in India if it did not allow government officials greater access to users’ messages.

The Indian government also plans to set up its own unit to monitor information posted on Web sites and social media sites, executives said, which will report to Gulshan Rai, the director general of India’s cyber-security monitor.

Edited to add 12/6/11: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, “”We want the luxury of free speech but not the burden of responsibility for how we use that freedom. Something will have to give.”

“I hate the idea of censorship but have seen for myself how dangerous inflammatory content on #facebook and #youtube can be,” Omar posted on micro-blogging site Twitter, perhaps recalling the days of stone pelting and street protests in Kashmir last year when Facebook and YouTube users had started a campaign against him.

And from the Financial Times:

“I believe that no reasonable person aware of the sensibilities of large sections of communities in this country and aware of community standards as they are applicable in India would wish to see this content in the public domain,” Sibal said, referring to “offensive material” he had shown some reporters prior to the conference. He added that the government did not believe in censorship.

According to the NYT, Sibal showed a group of IT execs a Facebook page that criticized Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress Party, calling it “unacceptable”.

“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,” Facebook said in a statement.

Asked what would be deemed “offensive”, he said: “We will define it, don’t worry, certainly, we will evolve guidelines…to ensure that such blasphemous content” is not publicly available in India.

The article goes on to describe his expectation that social networking sites have teams in place to monitor posted content in real time.

Asked whether his idea was technically feasible, he responded: “It is a feasible proposition, and we will inform you how as and when, we will inform you as and when.”

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