Indian minister proposes screening online posts, says ‘not censorship’

The government of India has asked some of the world’s largest online players to assist it in blocking out any material it deems offensive and defamatory.

Meeting with representatives from the likes of Yahoo!, Google, and Facebook, Communications Minister Kapil Sibal requested that all content be checked before it is uploaded onto social websites.

“I suggested that these platforms should evolve a mechanism on their own to ensure that such contents are removed as soon as they get to know of it… I have told them that this cannot go on,” the minister said.

According to the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest daily tabloids, the companies “are believed to have told Sibal his demand was impossible”.

This is not the first time Indian authorities have attempted to step into the private tech space. In 2010, BlackBerry manufacturer RIM allowed Indian security authorities to monitor some of its services after the authorities expressed security concerns.

“We won’t compromise on the security architecture of our corporate e-mails,” said RIM’s India spokesman, Satchit Gayakwad at the time.

Sibal denied that India was looking to go down the same kind of online censorship route as China.

China’s massive online population is blocked from viewing any content deemed politically inflammatory through a series of censorship measures popularly referred to as the “Great Firewall of China“.

“This government does not believe in either directly or indirectly interfering in the freedom of the press,” Sibal said.

Despite the negative reactions of the companies, Sibal remains convinced the proposed measures are worthwhile.

“I believe that no reasonable person, aware of the sensibilities of a large section of the communities in this country, would wish to see this in the public domain,” he said.

“Three months back we saw that Google, Yahoo!, Facebook had images which could be an insult to Indians, especially religious-minded people,” Sibal said.

“We told them to find a way that such insulting images are not uploaded. We gave them some time… but there was no response.”

The online firms countered, saying there was nothing they could do about the content as they are only the platforms on which it is shared.

Facebook released a statement, saying it “recognised the government’s interest in minimising the amount of abusive content”. It added that it would continue to communicate over the issue.

India’s Twitter population did not, however, seem to agree with their minister’s position.

Some reacted with anger:

Others used humour to express their feelings on the proposed online content blocking measures:

Inida’s online population currently sits at around the 110-million user mark, a small number in relation to its population of 1.2-billion. Connectivity in the country is, however, expected to boom in the next few years, with the Indian government hoping the country’s online population will hit 600-million by 2016.



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