Google, Facebook appeal in India after ordered to remove content

A court in Delhi had asked 21 Internet companies to remove objectionable content

Google and Facebook filed petitions before the Delhi High Court after a lower court asked them and other Internet companies to remove certain objectionable content from their websites.

Google has stated to the High Court that the Indian operation cannot be held responsible for its websites, which are run by the parent company in the U.S., said SPM Tripathi, lawyer for Vinay Rai, the petitioner before the lower court.

Rai, who is the editor of a newspaper called Akbari, said that he is opposed to inflammatory religious content on some Internet websites.

Google confirmed that it filed a petition before the High Court. "We can't comment further at this stage," it said in a statement. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Google's petition is in line with the stand often adopted by Internet companies when sued in Indian courts over online content: they pass the responsibility to their parent companies in the U.S., saying that they run the websites.

The company also argued before the High Court that it was not physically possible for all the content that is posted on websites by third-parties to be monitored, Tripathi said.

India's Information Technology Act requires intermediaries like ISPs to remove content that is found objectionable within a period of 36 hours of being notified of the content. Intermediaries are also required to warn users against posting or uploading a variety of objectionable content in their user agreements and other rules and regulations.

India's Minister for Communications and IT, Kapil Sibal, said in December in interviews to local TV channels that requests by his ministry for removal of content from some websites have gone unheeded by Internet companies. These companies also declined to provide information on who had posted the content.

Sibal was responding to newspaper reports that he had asked Internet companies to pre-screen objectionable content before it was posted online. The minister denied that he had expected that, but wanted the Internet companies to evolve a framework whereby content that was objectionable or inflammatory could be quickly removed. Some of the Internet companies were allowing content that would fail to live up to the laws that they are enforcing in their own country by their own community standards, he said.

The High Court on Thursday asked Google and Facebook to respond to the summons by the lower court, and fixed the next hearing for Monday, Tripathi said. "Like China, we will block all such web sites," High Court Judge Suresh Kait said while asking counsel for Facebook and Google India to develop a mechanism to keep a check and remove "offensive and objectionable" material from their web pages, [[xref:http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NewDelhi/We-can-block-Google-Facebook-like-China-Delhi-HC/Article1-796243.aspx|reported news agency, Press Trust of India.

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John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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