The Indian government has asked Internet companies and social media sites like Facebook to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory user content from India before it goes online, three industry executives say.
Top officials from the Indian units of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook were expected to meet with Kapil Sibal, India’s acting telecommunications minister, on Monday afternoon to discuss the matter, said two executives of Internet companies. The executives asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the media on the issue.
The executives said representatives from these companies were to tell Sibal at the meeting that his demand was impossible, given the volume of user-generated content coming from India. They said they could not be responsible for determining what was and was not defamatory or disparaging.
“If there’s a law and there’s a court order, we can follow up on it,” said an executive from one of the companies that planned to attend the meeting. But these companies cannot be in the business of deciding whether something is legal to post, he said.
Sibal’s office confirmed that he would meet with Internet service providers but did not provide more information about the content of the meeting.
About six weeks ago, Sibal called legal representatives from the country’s top Internet service providers and Facebook into his New Delhi office, said one of the executives who was briefed on the meeting.
At the meeting, Sibal showed attendees a Facebook page that maligned the Congress Party’s president, Sonia Gandhi. “This is unacceptable,” he told attendees, the executive said, and he asked them to find a way to monitor what was posted on their sites.
In the second meeting with the same executives, in late November, Sibal told them he expected them to use people to screen content, not technology, the executive said.
The three executives said Sibal told these companies that he expected them to set up a screening system, with staff members looking for objectionable content and deleting it before it was posted.
Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft did not respond immediately to calls for comment, and a Google spokeswoman said the company had no comment on the issue. Facebook said this year that it had more than 25 million users in India. Google has more than 100 million Internet users in India.
Though India describes itself as the world’s largest democracy, the country’s leaders have recently sought to monitor and control electronic information. In April, the ministry issued rules demanding that Internet service providers delete information from websites that officials or private citizens deemed disparaging or harassing. Last year, the government battled with BlackBerry’s manufacturer, Research in Motion, threatening to shut off the company’s service in India if it did not allow government officials greater access to users’ messages.
The Indian government also plans to set up its own unit to monitor information posted on websites and social media sites, executives said. The unit will report to Gulshan Rai, director general of India’s cybersecurity monitor.
A man who answered the phone in Rai’s office said he did not talk to the news media and hung up when a reporter asked for a press contact.
Some Indian cities like Mumbai have set up special units to monitor Internet sites like Facebook and Orkut, a social networking site operated by Google, for content considered disparaging or obscene. India made nearly 70 requests to Google to remove content from January to June, one of the highest request rates of any country, though less than the United States’ 92 and Brazil’s 224, according to Google’s transparency report.