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Screening, not censorship, says Sibal

BS Reporters  |  Mumbai/ New Delhi 

Users of social media sites Facebook and Twitter could not understand why information and telecom minister Kapil Sibal wanted to screen user-generated content on the sites. Tara Singh, a Twitter user, wrote, “We need to filter the government, not the social media.” Another user said, “They can't hang a terrorist, can't put thieves behind bars, can't save the common man's neck. They want to filter what we say.”

India's 100 million internet users form the third-largest user base behind China and the United States. The number is expected to touch 300 million users by 2014. The amount of data generated is nearly impossible to monitor, say cyber experts.

Amidst debate over screening of content on social media, Sibal clarified he did not want “censorship”. At the same time, the government wants to ensure offensive material hurting religious sentiments is not uploaded online. Concerned about such content hurting the diverse and large religious communities in India and igniting communal tension, he said there should be a mechanism to remove offensive content from websites.

Some of the content and pictures on which the government has raised objections include one which depicted Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a bad light. Other such content was said to be insulting to various religions.

“I believe no reasonable person, aware of the sensibilities of a large section of the communities in this country, would wish to see this in the public domain,” Sibal told reporters in New Delhi.

Sibal underlined the government was not interfering with the freedom of the press or speech. “We are seeking cooperation from websites and if somebody is not willing to cooperate on incendiary material like this, it is the duty of the government to think of further steps,” he said. The minister suggested these platforms should evolve mechanisms on their own to ensure any inflammatory content was removed as soon as it was uploaded.

On December 5, government representatives had met representatives of Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, who made it clear that they would not be able to do anything. The government ran into trouble with Yahoo! India, which is already fighting a case against the home ministry for non-cooperation. The internet giant had refused to share profile details of email addresses that were under the scanner of security agencies.

The government is now said to be contemplating a new framework to deal with the issue. It would “certainly evolve” guidelines to ensure such “blasphemous” material was not present on any platform, Sibal said.

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First Published: Wed, December 07 2011. 00:42 IST