Google, Facebook Asked to Screen User Content in India

    December 5, 2011

In a disturbing move, the government of India has apparently reached out to representatives of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo in hopes of preventing certain kinds of material from being posted by users. The New York Times is reporting that Kapil Sibal, acting minister of telecommunications, will meet with executives from the internet companies on Monday afternoon.

Today’s meeting will be third in a series of meetings that began six weeks ago, when Sibal gathered lawyers from the companies and from India’s main internet service providers. At this meeting he reportedly displayed a Facebook page critical of Sonia Gandhi, president of India’s Congress Party, as an example of the sort of content he wanted removed.

At the second meeting, which reportedly took place in November, Mr. Sibal insisted that the companies employ human screeners – rather than any sort of automated system – to identify, intercept, and remove content his office deems objectionable.

The executives are expected to tell Mr. Sibal at today’s meeting that the sheer volume of content produced in India makes the project impossible, especially in absence of a court order or law requiring them to do it. The request also raises legal questions. While free speech protections are not as robust in India as they are in the United States, there remain concerns that Mr. Sibal’s request violates those protections. One Twitter user points to a Supreme Court ruling that protects free speech on the internet: screams “unconstitutional”, as Sibal well knows. Pre-screening of content illegal, Supreme Court has held. 1 hour ago via Hotot · powered by @socialditto

Others used Twitter to express their anger at the project, as well as their skepticism that it was even possible:

Only our government could make religious fundamentalists and illiterate proto-fascists look good 1 hour ago via TweetDeck · powered by @socialditto

Funniest part of ministerial instruction to screen Indian #facebook content, Sibal ‘expected them to use human beings’ 1 hour ago via TweetDeck · powered by @socialditto

India telecon minister asks Google/ Facebook to screen user content before posting. Um…of 125 million users? 1 hour ago via Tweet Button · powered by @socialditto