Google and Facebook, among others, have begun complying with demands by the government of India that they filter religiously and socially objectionable content from their sites. A court in Dehli gave several internet companies - including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and more - 15 days to comply with the court’s demands to remove content.
According to India’s NDTV, Google and Facebook have already issued compliance reports in response to the court’s demands. While Google said that they have already begun removing some objectionable content from certain sites, Facebook, Yahoo, and Microsoft insisted that there are no grounds for complaint against them or their content.
This court order comes as part of a civil case brought by Muslim leader Mufti Aijaz Arshad Quasmi, who is seeking the removal of content that is morally or religiously objectionable. The current case is part of an ongoing struggle by the government of India to get such content off of search and social networking sites. In December acting telecommunications minister Kapil Sibal met with representatives of several companies and asked them to voluntarily screen certain kinds of content from their sites and search results. Google and Facebook issued statements saying that they would remove content that violated their terms of service, and would comply with Indian law, but would not actively censor content merely for being “objectionable.” In response to the controversy, Sibal gave an interview in which he denied that his office had asked anyone to pre-screen user content and that political satire was the target of his office’s requests. He insisted that only offensive or inappropriate content should be removed.
Last month the Indian government initiated legal proceedings against Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others over their refusal to remove offensive content. Google and Facebook requested that the proceedings be dropped. The court refused and warned them that India was just as capable of blocking such sites as China.
According to Google’s Transparency Report, they received 68 requests from the government of India to take down content from Google’s services, including search, YouTube, Blogger, Picasa, and Orkut. Orkut and YouTube were the subject of the vast majority of the requests. There were 25 requests to take down material on Orkut, and 19 to remove material on YouTube. The 19 YouTube requests covered 48 total items. Of those 48 videos, over a third - 19 - list “government criticism” as the reason for the takedown request. Privacy and security concerns ran a distant second, with four requests covering eight videos. Government criticism was also behind the vast majority of Orkut content removal. One takedown request covered 236 individual items on Orkut that India wanted removed.
In contrast, issues like defamation, privacy and security, and pornography were the subject of far fewer takedown requests. Only three YouTube items were requested to be removed on the grounds of pornography, only six for defamation, and eight for privacy and security. On Orkut only six items were taken down for defamation, and six for privacy and security. Only Blogger saw a majority of content taken down for defamation, with 24 of 39 items removed for that reason.
It is difficult to know what the government of India found objectionable about this particular content without seeing it. At the same time, it is difficult to square the fact that “government criticism” was the subject of so many takedown requests with Kapil Sibal’s insistence in the above-referenced interview that he would welcome government-related satire as a means of free expression.
Requests for comment were sent to both Facebook and Google. While Facebook has yet to respond, a Google spokesperson issued the following statement: "This step is in accordance with Google's longstanding policy of responding to court orders." She went on to say that there is nothing new to Google's approach in this matter, and pointed out a 2007 blog post in which Google detailed their policy for dealing with controversial content.