Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Indian Court orders websites to remove 'offensive' material

Leading internet websites in India - including Google, Orkut and Facebook - have begun removing material from their Indian websites. Following a complaint, the Delhi High Court threatened to block websites that failed to remove 'offensive' material. 

"This ruling "surely has an impact on the e­commerce industry", said Sajai Singh, Partner at J. Sagar Associates. "Websites will be required to remove objectionable content if any user complains." 

Google and Facebook are among 21 internet companies that have been accused of hosting material that may cause civil unrest and had been given until 6 February to remove all 'anti-social' and 'anti-religious' content on their sites.  

"If they had not removed the offensive material they could have been penalised, fined and also imprisonment, as these offences are considered criminal in nature", said Vaibhav Parikh, a Partner at Nishith Desai Associates. "Under Indian law material is considered to be [offensive] if it is obscene, hurts religious sentiments, and incites violence and public disorder", explained Parikh.

"Both Google and Facebook hold a global policy of non-interference," said Singh. "But the companies have been warned that this will not work in India so have been asked to develop a mechanism to block objectionable material."

However, the Information Technology Rules - enacted by the Department of Information Technology in 2011 to regulate e-content in India - notes "that intermediaries are liable only if they are aware that such content has been stored on their computer system and they have not taken any action to remove such material", said Singh. "Nowhere the Rules stipulate any screening of information."

Since India "ranks third in terms of the number of internet users it is evident that Google and Facebook do not want to be on the wrong side of the law and jeopardise the Indian market", Singh added. "Though Google and Facebook may have complied with the court order, they will challenge the order of the trial court in the High Court." 

Singh also thinks that "with the current order one would tend to believe that Facebook and Google may adopt some electronic mode of screening". However, experts have expressed serious doubts with regard to the success of such a screening. Singh: "Whether there will be stringent requirement of screening will depend on the final order of the Delhi High Court." 
Michiel Willems © 2012 CP Publishing Ltd. London, UK. Top picture: Cia.gov