The Slippery Slope Of Internet Censorship In India

from the and-how-companies-have-to-deal-with-it dept

Slashdot points us to a WSJ article that focuses on how Google is dealing with censorship laws in India, by taking down certain content and complying with local laws. While it is disappointing that Google appears to be willing to simply accept, rather than question, some of those laws, the bigger issue may be with the laws themselves. As the WSJ details:

The nation of 1.2 billion is the world’s largest democracy and in principle affords free speech to its citizens. But the country has a volatile mix of religious, ethnic and caste politics and a history of mob violence. So, the government has the authority to curtail speech rights in certain cases. India’s Constitution encapsulates that gray zone: Free speech is subject to “reasonable restrictions” for such purposes as maintaining “public order, decency or morality.”

Authorities say Internet companies in India, including Yahoo Inc., Facebook Inc. and Twitter, are expected to help government enforce those standards online by removing objectionable material and, occasionally, helping to track down users. Under a law that took effect in October, corporate officials from any Web site that fails to comply with requests to take down material or block sites can face a fine and a jail sentence of up to seven years.

But how is a site like Google to know when speech is “objectionable” or when it’s just “disliked by someone in power”? That’s why “reasonable restrictions” on free speech often present a pretty dangerous slippery slope. It’s hard to blame Google for this, however. It’s likely that most internet companies in India are complying with the law. The real question should be whether or not the law itself makes sense.

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Companies: google

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Comments on “The Slippery Slope Of Internet Censorship In India”

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20 Comments
Jake (user link) says:

Slippery slope? More of a tightrope walk if you ask me. The fact of the matter is, some restrictions on free speech are necessary; I’ve never heard of a challenge to the constitutionality of laws against soliciting acts of violence, for example. And striking the right balance between the freedom to express one’s political and religious beliefs and the freedom not to be blown up by someone else expressing theirs is something that, frankly, very few nations have really succeeded in doing.

I don’t remember feeling like I might be thrown in jail if I said I was a bit sorry the IRA failed to kill Mrs T back in the good old days, though.

:) says:

Re: Re:

Then you have never read about the ACLU.

Where they won a lot of cases in a lot of places the most famous one being the case of white supremacists rights to free speech.

Or even a lesser known one of people wanting to legalize underage sex.

You may not agree with those people but no one should be able to silence them using the government, maybe public pressure but never the government.

Anonymous Coward says:

I disagree, Jake. Speech should never be against the law, especially not for such a silly reason as “soliciting acts of violence.” Acts of violence are already against the law. Do you think a restriction on being allowed to ask others to do violence on your behalf would STOP people doing it? No, it’s just another unenforceable law.

Jake (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Perhaps I should clarify what I meant by ‘soliciting’ acts of violence.
If I say I’d very much like to see someone put a couple of bullets into a certain British politician who likes to think of himself as the spiritual successor to Oswald Moseley, that’s me expressing an opinion. If I offer the sum of twenty thousand pounds to the first person to present me with that politician’s severed head, however, that’s a very different kettle of fish.
Of course, very few examples are that extreme; the line between wishing someone would do something illegal and actively trying to talk them into doing it is both fine and blurry. But it is a line that you cannot cross. It is a line you even be seen to cross. Nobody has a constitutional right to cause harm to other people through malice or willful negligence.

Henry Emrich (profile) says:

The bigger issue is why anybody is actually surprised

About the fact that Google colludes with government censors.
They made it amply clear that their “do no evil” bullshit was exactly that the MILLISECOND they actively aided the Chinese government’s “Great firewall” efforts.

Anybody who’s been paying attention understands that corporations often aid governments in their most evil efforts (“Blackwater” and other so-called “Defense” contractors come to mind). Y’know why? Because corporations — even ones with catchy “do no evil” rhetoric — are SOLELY interested in making money, at any cost, and by any means. So the answer to “what will companies do” is, “whatever various States PAY them to do.”

Anonymous Coward says:

sorry, but indian laws apply to google if they want to operate in indian. same way that US laws apply to indian companies if they want to operate in the US.

while google being a behemouth makes it feel like they should be doing something, in reality this needs to be coming from the people of india, not some foriegn corporation.

google is not here to set the world free. we still need to do that ourselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Google operates in the US. Its headquarters and servers are in the US. If India doesn’t want US internet companies serving Indian users, they can ban the internet, or run a firewall like China.

Under your logic, anybody who ever posts anything online must obey every law in every country. So if Iran has a law that says “saying ‘Iran sucks'” is a capital offense, and somebody from Iran can read this post, I would be breaking the law and should be executed for this post. Obviously, this opens the entire internet-browsing world up to prosecution by any tyrannical regime; we would all have to obey the most draconian law of any country while online.

cc says:

‘But how is a site like Google to know when speech is “objectionable” or when it’s just “disliked by someone in power”?’

Mike, it seems companies are not expected to know what is objectionable, just to comply with gov’t requests to remove content they don’t like.

They’d blame Google if it refuses to remove content after a take-down notice (something it has a long history of doing).

Anonymous Coward says:

no, sorry that wasn’t my point, err. let me try again.

google as a company has headquarters in india, i suspect that they are registered there as a corporation as well (google india or something)

this indian branch provides localization, local advertisements and helps make google for india, google for india, not google for the US in another language.

now, you are completely correct. google could pull its offices out of india, do all the work here in the states and let india do what it wants.

but, then you are also correct, india as a sovern nation could block google. google would loose a HUGE market and be hurt financially. google may be nice, but they still exist for profit.

so the choice: conform to indian law/requirements, or leave. considering they have four offices in india but only one in france and two in germany, it seems they are pretty serious about this market.

again, the change needs to come from the people, not google. google should be there, ready to open up as the laws do, but it is not their place to fight the censorship battle.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Sort of arrogant, no?

Mike, once again you are doing the sort of thing that makes the rest of the world think that Americans are arrogant:

You are trying to apply your standards and your laws to the rest of the world.

India’s laws are different. You may not agree with them, but they are the law. Google is doing what is required of them by Indian law to operate in India.

Don’t be arrogant, the rest of the world doesn’t always want to be American.

known coward says:

GoOgLe is EvIl

the point is that google portrays itself as a “doing good for world by promoting peace, justice and the love, in a warm fuzzy liberal sort of way. The fact of the matter is they are a Large coroporation bent on world domination in their product areas much like, Cisco, Microsoft, McDonalds, Siemen’s do. Google has shown time and time again it is willing to do what ever is required to get there.

Googles interest is in making googles of money, not promoting peace love and understanding. Google does not give a rat’s ass if the content they are being asked to take down by the governments is reasonable or not. They just do what they have to keep market share. After between India and china 3 billion eyeballs can not be bad.

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