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BW Article on Sibal Internet Censorship

BW Article on Sibal Internet Censorship

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Businessworld
06 Dec 2011

Online Uproar On FB, Twitter Screening Proposal
Sibal says it is a request for self-regulation. FB to remove offensive content BW Online Bureau Even as Communications Minister Kapil Sibal tried to allay concerns over censorship of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, Indian bloggers and Twitter users continued to heap scorn on his proposals to leading Internet companies including Facebook and Google that they remove "offensive content" from their services. Sibal, on his part, insisted the request was not censorship and said some of the images and statements on social media sites risked fanning tensions in India, which has a long history of deadly religious violence. But that did not stop Facebook and Twitter users from unleashing a storm of complains of censorship saying a prefiltering system would limit free expression and was impossible to implement. The phrase #IdiotKapilSibal was one of India's most tweeted on Tuesday. "If Kapil Sibal wants to jail us for speaking our mind on the Internet, go ahead! We'll just go ahead and get bail like Kanimozhi," tweeted renowned stock market broker Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. Social networking website Facebook, however, said it recognises the Indian government's interest in minimising the amount of abusive content online, and it will remove any content violating its terms.

"We will remove any content that violates our terms, which are designed to keep material that is hateful, threatening, incites violence or contains nudity off the service," Facebook said in a statement. NYT Report Started It A New York Times report on Monday that said Sibal called executives about six weeks ago and showed them a Facebook page that maligned ruling Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi and told them it was "unacceptable". The government is very sensitive to criticism of the Gandhi family. Last year there were moves to block the English translation of a Spanish novel about Sonia Gandhi's life. "We have to take care of the sensibilities of our people, we have to protect their sensibilities. Our cultural ethos is very important to us," Sibal told reporters on Tuesday. Sibal said his ministry was working on guidelines for action against companies who did not respond to the government's requests, but did not specify what action could be taken. "We'll certainly evolve guidelines to ensure that such blasphemous material is not part of content on any platform." India's largely unrestricted Internet access stands in contrast to tight controls in fellow Asian economic powerhouse China. But in line with many other government's around the world, India has become increasingly edgy about the power of social media. "The idea of prescreening is impossible. How will they do it?...There is no technology currently that determines whether content is 'defamatory' or 'offensive'," India-based cyber security expert Vijay Mukhi told Reuters. However,the fact remains that of late, cyberspace has often been turned into a bullying arena, threatening to turn the Internet into a platform for uncivil, no-holdsbarred, and sometimes vulgar exchanges. Reputations are tarnished, religious symbols are mocked at and historical personalities are denigrated with impunity. It does not matter whether sentiments are hurt.

Taken Aback The New York Times report, which Sibal did not confirm or deny, was the focus of much of the online anger directed at the minister on Tuesday. "I love Sonia Gandhi. She is awesome. She is God. And never wrong about anything, ever." (This msg is approved by Kapil Sibal's cyber cell)," posted twitter user Sorabh Pant. Indian authorities were taken aback in the summer by an anti-corruption campaign that multiplied on Facebook and Twitter, drawing tens of thousands of people to street protests and forcing the government to agree to new anti-graft laws. Last year, as part of a broader electronic security crackdown, Indian security agencies demanded access to communications sent through highly secure BlackBerry devices of Canadian smartphone maker Research In Motion . RIM gave India access to its consumer services, including its Messenger services, but said it could not allow monitoring of its enterprise email. Facebook said it recognized the government's wish to minimize the amount of offensive content on the web. The California-based company said it removes content that violates company rules on nudity and inciting violence and hatred. "(We) will continue to engage the Indian authorities as they debate this important issue," Facebook said in a statement. Yahoo India declined to comment and Google said it would comment later in the day. India now has 100 million Internet users, less than a tenth of the country's population of 1.2 billion. It is the third-largest user base behind China and the United States. It is seen swelling to 300 million users in the next three years. The demand is the Indian government’s latest attempt to monitor and control electronic information. In April, the ministry issued rules demanding Internet service providers delete information posted on Web sites that officials or private citizens deemed disparaging or harassing. Last year, the government battled with Blackberry’s manufacturer, Research In Motion, threatening to shut the company’s service off in India if it did not allow government officials greater access to users’ messages.

During last year's clampdown, officials also said Google and Skype would be sent notices to set up local servers to allow full monitoring of email and messenger communications. Britain also faced criticism last month for considering curbs on social media after recent riots even as Foreign Secretary William Hague castigated countries that block the Internet to stifle protests.

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