x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Minister says India has no plans to censor social media websites

At an IT summit in Mumbai, the telecoms minister warns that websites like Facebook must obey the same rules governing the press and other media.

MUMBAI // India does not intend to censor social websites such as Facebook, a minister said yesterday, but he demanded that they obey the same rules governing the press and other media.

"I want to say once and for all, without any obfuscation, no government in India will ever censor social media," the telecoms minister, Kapil Sibal, said at an IT summit in Mumbai.

"I never wanted to censor social media and no government wants to do so. But like the print and electronic media, they have to obey the laws of the country," Mr Sibal said.

Sibal held a number of meetings with leading internet companies late last year in which he asked about the possibility of pre-screening content posted online by users.

He reportedly showed executives examples of obscene images found on the internet that risked offending Muslims or defaming politicians, including the boss of the ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi.

Since then, 19 companies including Google, Yahoo! and Facebook have been targeted in criminal and civil cases lodged in lower New Delhi courts, holding them responsible for content posted by users of their platforms.

The Indian government has given its sanction for the firms to be tried for serious crimes such as fomenting religious hatred and spreading social discord, offences that could land company directors in prison.

Google and Facebook said this month that they had removed the allegedly offensive content used as evidence in the court cases.

The groups have appealed to the Delhi High Court asking for the cases against them to be quashed on the basis that they cannot be held responsible for the actions of their clients.

The comments of a judge hearing the case raised further fears that freedom of expression online could be restricted.

"You must have a stringent check. Otherwise, like in China, we may pass orders banning all such websites," the judge said during a hearing in January.