Vinay Rai vs Facebook: Govt uses courts to censor the Internet

by Jan 13, 2012

New Delhi: The government is back to curbing online portals and social networking sites; this time, via the judiciary.

Today, the Centre has given sanction to a Delhi court to prosecute the executives of 21 companies, including Google and Facebook, for posting objectionable content online.

"Government of India after being satisfied that such contents are violative of the provisions of the information technology (intermediaries and guidelines) rules 2001 and after due application of judicious minds find it appropriate to grant sanction under 196 of CrPC to proceed against the accused persons in the aforesaid complaint in national harmony, integration and national interest,” said the document submitted by Seema Sharma, Government of India’s counsel in the case ‘Vinay Rai versus Facebook’.

In December last year, Delhi based journalist Vinay Rai filed a criminal suit in a lower court against 21 companies on the ground that the websites run by these companies host blasphemous and derogatory material. Naresh Sharma/ Firstpost

The government of India has also found that action can be taken against the websites under section 153 A, 153 B and 198A as the content therein, in its view, can instigate enmity between different groups, is prejudicial, and threatens national integrity.

The court also asked the Ministry of External Affairs to summon the executives of 10 companies head-quartered abroad.

The court ordered that the representatives of all 21 companies be present before it on 13 March.

Yesterday, the Delhi High Court said that if immediate steps were not taken, the websites would be blocked the way it happened in China.

In December last year, Delhi based journalist Vinay Rai filed a criminal suit in a lower court against 21 companies on the ground that the websites run by these companies host blasphemous and derogatory material which could even leads to riots. Rai told Firstpost that he wanted these companies to remove such content with immediate effect and devise a screening system to filter such material in future.

"It appears from a bare perusal of the documents that the accused, in connivance with each other and other unknown persons, are selling, publicly exhibiting and have put into circulation obscene, lascivious content", metropolitan magistrate Sudesh Kumar ruled on 23 December.

In the same ruling, the court had sought the opinion of the union government on the issue.

In an earlier interview to Firstpost, Rai had said that the West has proper mechanisms in place regarding posting material on the Internet, but it does not practice similar system in India. “YouTube is a good example. Every video is screened before being uploaded. It does not appear on the site, instantly. Other sites should have similar norms in place,” said Rai.

The companies have moved High Court in the matter, which will hear the matter on Monday.

 

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