Sibal climbs down: 'Round table' with web companies on 15 Dec

Sibal has said that he is not asking web companies to do anything that violates their guidelines: PTI

Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal has said he was not trying to 'censor' Internet companies and said he would be willing to engage with them in 'transparent and open' round table discussions on 15 December.  The discussion aims to find a way for a ‘consensual’ solution to be found, either by the web companies regulating themselves or by issuing guidelines that will look into the concerns that Sibal has enunciated. The round-table will be transparent and open, Sibal said.

This is what Sibal should have done in the first place – engaged in discussions. In true and, sadly, regular, Congress style, he made a statement without thinking the issue through and understanding the practical problems his solution would throw up. Then, thanks to the howls of protest, Sibal does what we are so used to seeing, he climbs down – and it’s roll-back time once again.

When Sibal made his initial statement, Firstpost had written of how impractical his prescription was. “Sibal’s demands that companies have staff proactively looking for and then deleting “objectionable content” before it is published are unworkable. The sheer volume of user content posted to social media sites is simply enormous. YouTube sees 48 hours worth of video uploaded every minute, or to put it another way, eight years of content uploaded every day. Facebook has 800 mn active users worldwide and 25 mn users in India. Google has over 100 mn users in India. There’s simply no way that they can watch every minute of video, read every blog post or webpage, listen to every audio file or look at every photograph.”

Thankfully better sense seems to have prevailed.

Sibal also said that the content he wanted removed was only that which would upset religious sentiments, and also included pictures of child pornography and other disturbing material. He said that the government would issue guidelines if Internet companies failed to act on their own, but stressed that he was only looking for a completely open round table discussion at the moment.

Refuting charges that the government was effectively engaging in censorship of the Internet Sibal said, "Whatever I have said does not say anything about regulation and restricting. I only want some monitoring of content. We will defend any citizen's right to speech to the last breath but we don't want this kind of content". He also said it was impossible to take legal action against a majority of those uploading offensive content, because Internet companies would not give the government user details and also because a lot of users were outside the governments legal jurisdiction. "I want the solution today and not wait for a long legal procedure. Any legal remedy will be absolutely impractical", he said.

 Download a free copy of Firstpost's eBook on Sibal's proposals and what this means for freedom of expression

Watch Video: Talking to Karan Thapar, Kapil Sibal warned that the govt will issue guidelines on content if websites don't censor.

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