India to ban ‘offensive’ Internet material


India on Tuesday vowed to ban offensive material from the Internet after Facebook, Google and other major firms told the government they were unable to screen content before it was posted.
Communications Minister Kapil Sibal said talks with the Internet giants had failed to come up with a solution following complaints that he had lodged three months ago over “unacceptable” images.
“My aim is that insulting material never gets uploaded,” Sibal told reporters in New Delhi. “We will evolve guidelines and mechanisms to deal with the issue.
“They will have to give us the data, where these images are being uploaded and who is doing it.”
Sibal said the government supported free speech and was against censorship but that some material on the Internet was so offensive that no one would find it acceptable.
He said he had shown some of the worst images to the Internet companies, who had said they could not control distribution.
“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.”
Sibal said the firms had shown that their “intention was not to cooperate” and that they had explained they were only “platforms” on which people could display material.
“I feel that this in principle was not correct but it is very clear that we will not allow such insults to happen. We are thinking and will take the next step,” he said. “We will not allow our cultural ethos to be hurt.”
Sibal showed some of the offending material to journalists, including fake images of naked politicians and religious figures.
He added that “sometimes when asked for data in respect to terrorists… there is hesitation (by Internet companies) to provide that data.”
Google India confirmed Monday’s meeting with Sibal but made no further comment, while other Internet firms were not immediately available.
The Hindustan Times on Tuesday said the Internet companies had rejected Sibal’s appeal, saying a huge volume of information was uploaded on to the Internet and that they were not responsible for judging its content.
At the meeting, Sibal raised the example of a religious website that turned out to display pornographic images, the newspaper said.
It added that Sibal had earlier complained about a site that attacked Sonia Gandhi, the influential president of the ruling Congress party. He also requested that humans, not technology, screen content before it was posted.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi, spokesman for the ruling Congress party, said the government was only acting “in respect of absolutely illegal, defamatory, pornographic or other similar kind of material.”
BlackBerry maker RIM has also been embroiled in a dispute with the Indian government over access to encrypted email and instant message services that New Delhi fears could be used by extremists to plot attacks.
Sibal’s requests for Internet screening quickly attracted a storm of criticism on Twitter, with many users expressing anger over any attempt to restrict usage.


  1. PT: The headline is totally out of line. There is a difference between "vows to crack-down" and "to ban". Also, it's not a done deal yet. There might be some parliamentary and judicial process yet to be wrapped up.

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