Indian authorities demand censorship from Google and Facebook

Hundreds of Indian Muslims took part in a protest in Mumbai after the caricatures of Prophet Mohammed appeared on Facebook. A private user asked people to submit drawings of the Prophet Mohammed in an online competition. AFP Photo / Punit Paranjpe
The Indian government has sanctioned the prosecution of 21 web companies, including giants Google and Facebook, for publishing offensive content, warning that it will block the websites “like in China” if no pre-moderation takes place.

­An Indian judge ruled that some content available through the sites conflicts with “national harmony, integration and national interest."

Justice Suresh Kait, of the Delhi High Court, said India is ready to take drastic measures if they do not develop mechanisms to regulate “offensive and objectionable” material on their web sites. “Like China, we will block all such websites,” Kalit warned.

Other web giants facing charges include Microsoft, Yahoo and YouTube.

A complaint against websites hosting images considered offensive to Hindus, Muslims and Christians was brought to court by a private petitioner. The case was initiated by Vinay Rai, a journalist, who considered that Google, Facebook and other web companies are responsible for the content on their webpages.

Google responded by saying that it cannot pre-moderate everything uploaded by individual users.

"We cannot control a billion minds. Some are conservative, some are liberal and some write all the defamatory and obnoxious articles on web pages. There is a procedure for getting them removed," said former  Solicitor General Mukul Rohatgi representing Google India.

Nevertheless, authorities insist that all web content must be pre-moderated. Last year the country adopted new legislation according to which companies bear responsibility for user content posted on their websites.

If web companies fail to follow the law, they may face the same repressions as they do in China, which probably has one of the most sophisticated censorship regimes in the world. Internet usage is controlled through a wide variety of laws and administrative regulations. The system is filtering specific key words and politically sensitive subjects.

Thus in 2009 Chinese authorities blocked Facebook and Twitter, presumably for containing social or political commentary. Google search requests are also censored for the country’s 500 million internet users.