An Indian government official has asked Web companies to remove offensive material from their sites.
Telecoms and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal asked executives from Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft on Dec. 5 to screen content before displaying them to users in India, Reuters reported Dec. 6. Sibal had said some of the images and statements posted on social media risked fanning tensions in India, which has a history of deadly communal and religious violence.
No agreement has been reached, according to Reuters.
The goal was not to promote censorship, but to limit offensive content, according to Law Minister Salman Khurshid. The country already censors films and books it considers obscene or could cause religious strife.
"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 said.
There is some content on the Internet that "any normal human being would be offended by," he said during a Dec. 6 press conference. The government has asked social media companies to develop a way to eliminate offensive content as soon as it is created, no matter what country it is created in, Sibal said.
In April, India created new rules that require Internet companies to remove objectionable content when requested. The rules were roundly criticized by various rights groups and Web companies. Sibal said his ministry is working on guidelines for action against companies that refuse to comply with government requests, but did not specify the actions.
"We'll certainly evolve guidelines to ensure that such blasphemous material is not part of content on any platform," Sibal told Reuters.
The executives reportedly told Sibal that American law applies to them and they are not subject to the Indian government's rules created in April, according to the New York Times.
"Even if U.S. law applies, the community standards of India have to be taken into account," Sibal said.
The New York Times reported that Sibal called the executives several weeks ago and showed a Facebook page maligning ruling Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi. The page was "unacceptable," Sibal reportedly said. He said he found "subject matter which was so offensive that it hurt the religious sentiments of large sections of the community" on the Internet, but declined to define what was considered offensive.
The companies should be setting up a proactive prescreening system, with staffers looking for objectionable content and deleting it before it is posted, Sibal said. India has made nearly 70 requests to Google to remove content between January and June of this year, according to Google's transparency report.
Facebook and Google issued statements stating they remove content that violate their terms of service or is illegal. Facebook will remove content that "is hateful, threatening, incites violence or contains nudity," the company said. "We recognize the government's interest in minimizing the amount of abusive content that is available online and will continue to engage with the Indian authorities as they debate this important issue," said Facebook.
"But when content is legal and doesn't violate our policies, we won't remove it just because it's controversial, as we believe that people's differing views, so long as they're legal, should be respected and protected," Google said.
Last year, India's security agencies threatened to block BlackBerry service in the country if Research In Motion did not provide access to communications sent through the devices. RIM averted a showdown, but it's not definitely known what concessions the Canadian smartphone maker made to the Indian government.