Indian Official Promises India Won't Censor The Internet… Except, You Know, When It Has To Censor The Internet

from the funny-how-that-works dept

One of the frustrating things about the SOPA/PIPA debate was the way that defenders of the bill tried so hard to dodge the censorship label. However, as Professor Derek Bambauer helpfully pointed out months ago, any form of content blocking by the government is censorship. It’s just a question of whether or not it’s acceptable censorship — and, most people are comfortable with some level of censorship. But SOPA/PIPA defenders often refuse to admit this… hiding behind some claim about how since infringement is illegal, it’s not censorship.

But this misses the point: every form of government censorship is based on the claim that the censored content is “illegal” in some manner.

Witness the situation in India. A few months ago, we wrote about Indian Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Kapil Sibal, who had apparently been pushing internet companies to pre-screen all user-generated content to stop jerks. Then, last month, some Indian courts similarly told internet companies to block content. Apparently, recently, another official — Minister of State for Communications & IT, Sachin Pilot, (whose title seems to overlap quite a bit with Sibal’s) — said that internet companies “must comply.”

Well, now, Sibal is back, insisting that the government won’t censor social media at all:

“I want to say once and for all, without any obfuscation, no government in India will ever censor social media.”

Except, that’s not true. In clarifying his earlier remarks to those same companies, Sibal said he saw “the need for a new system to be enforced for dealing with content that is in breach of Indian law.” But what is that, other than censorship? Sibal is playing the same game as SOPA/PIPA defenders — insisting that as long as certain content is declared illegal, it can be censored, but leaving out the fact that they get to decide what is and is not declared illegal. The defenders of these kinds of things like to pretend that it’s universally obvious what’s “illegal” and what’s not, and that it could never ever happen that legitimate content — such as critical political commentary — would ever get falsely flagged as being illegal. But, having seen exactly that happen too many times (including through the use of bogus copyright claims), it’s a very legitimate concern.

What Sibal is really saying here is that the government won’t censor content that he thinks is okay. But if people in the government don’t think it’s okay, it’ll get declared illegal and get censored. That takes away greatly from his unequivocal statement about no censorship, doesn’t it?

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Comments on “Indian Official Promises India Won't Censor The Internet… Except, You Know, When It Has To Censor The Internet”

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43 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

since infringement is illegal, it's not censorship

So then why is isn’t the U.S seizing Hollywood studios and labels and extraditing its members for trial? Don’t they know the junk they “produce” is in violation of the laws of several countries? Namely Sharia law?

And why do they always complain about Iran and China’s censorship? Don’t they know its illegal to make movies about Tibet?

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Pfft. India does censorship for whatever reason by any means if it is in the interests of the government.
http://freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie/2012/01/23/when-offending-sensibilities-is-more-important-than-death-threats/

http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/01/mr-rushdie-regrets/

Here they try the “for your own safety” method first, when what they mean is “your book is already banned anyway”. One clear motivation is keeping one religious group happy in an election year.

silverscarcat says:

Re:

Yes it is.

Look at the prohibition. Alcohol was illegal then, and it was removed and destroyed by the law back then.

Guess what happened?

Crime lords like Al Capone became powerful thanks to smuggling illegal alcohol around.

Anything that removes something from the internet is censorship, plain and simple.

Censorship is the blocking of information by the government, no matter how or why.

You want people to go to something legal?

Make it appealing.

The hidden truth of the free market is that people WILL get what they want and HOW they want it for the price THEY want.

If the price is too high or the product too hard to find, well…

That’s why Black Markets exist.

And that’s why Al Capone was able to become as powerful as he had been back in the day.

Michael says:

Re:

Yes, except that you failed to point out how it’s only become considered illegal activity based upon the laws as redefined by the private corps themselves via legislation and treaties which they had a hand in crafting, minus public scrutiny. The reason governments are in favor of proposals to censor internet content is because they know that it will set a nice precedent for them to justify other forms of censorship in the future, particularly with regards to politics. Once they’ve got their foot in the door, it will prove extremely difficult to shut it.

I wonder if the private corps which have a hand in drafting and promoting such heavy-handed measures are prepared for public backlash and inevitable boycotting of all their precious ‘intellectual property.’ They’re engaged in corporate terrorism — they use their money and influence to deprive us of our freedoms step by step. Somehow I don’t believe that the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms had this form of public abuse in mind.

Anonymous Coward says:

Except, that’s not true. In clarifying his earlier remarks to those same companies, Sibal said he saw “the need for a new system to be enforced for dealing with content that is in breach of Indian law.”

In some countries Nazi stuff or denying the Holocaust is illegal. In the US, child porn is illegal. I don’t consider blocking child porn to be censorship. If I judged countries that block Nazi crap by US standards I’d feel it to be censorship. But is it censorship if it is consistent with the country’s own law and customs? Or should there be a universal minimum right of free speech covering politics and religion?

The US routinely shows its arrogance with its notion that a representative democracy is the most highly evolved form of government. That’s simply untrue and doesn’t work in cultures without at least a kernel of such traditions. I think the same holds true for standards of “censorship”. US-style free speech may not work for very single culture on the face of the earth.

Again, it’s not that I don’t believe in free speech, I simply think that the US version may not be suitable for everyone, everywhere.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

I don’t consider blocking child porn to be censorship.

That’s the thing, though – it IS censorship. It’s just censorship that we as a community agree with. There’s nothing wrong with that. There are plenty of things that I’m totally OK censoring (child porn being the most obvious).

A rose is a rose is a rose. The problems come when the censorship goes too far. That’s where discussions need to start happening *BEFORE* the censorship takes place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

To followup on your excellent point (of COURSE it’s censorship): we, as a society, have to decide when the benefits of censorship exceed the costs. In the case of child porn, we’ve decided one way. In the case of essays about apple trees and geometry textbooks and movies about cars, we’ve decided another.

But we should (a) be very reluctant to censor anything. Only after considerable PUBLIC debate, and the presentation of compelling evidence buttressed by strong arguments, should we even consider so. And if we do, then (b) we should periodically reconsider our decisions: what made some kind of sense in 1982 may well not make any sense at all now.

And we certainly should not censor anything merely because someone, somewhere finds it offensive. That is in and of itself a compelling argument to support it adamantly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

That’s the thing, though – it IS censorship. It’s just censorship that we as a community agree with. There’s nothing wrong with that. There are plenty of things that I’m totally OK censoring (child porn being the most obvious).

That’s kind of my point. The majority of Americans are fine with child porn being buried and do not consider it censorship as it fits within our societal norms. I’m just suggesting that if any such censorship falls within those norms it’s no big deal and we ought not to judge other civil societies by our own standard when it comes to their particular form of “censorship”.

Jayesh Badwaik says:

if you hear the same lines, it's from the same people

Hi,

I am from India and NO, he is not in pocket of MPAA/RIAA.
Actually, in India, censorship is for completely different reasons. Something similar to Egypt, Iran rather than USA.

But, in recent months, Reliance Industries have been applying SOPA like censorship in India too. So, it is not yet a problem but it will soon be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Except When We Do

You have all failed to appreciate the brilliance of Indian politicians. Now they can say anything that sounds good and completely nullify their own statement just by adding the words “except when we do” at the end. Endless fun can be had saying stuff that everybody wants to hear. For example:

We will not censor the internet! Except when we do.

We will never engage in corruption! Except when we do.

Next we will have this little phrase “except when we do” replaced by a silent asterisk, purely to avoid tedious repetition.

There is no way we will ever accept bribes!*

We will never lie to the people!*

It is genius.

Blah says:

if you hear the same lines, it's from the same people

I think some of you are reading this wrong: I doubt it has much to do with copyright issues or the MPAA etc. What it is about, are the demonstrations against corruption in India last year, the whole Anna Hazare and Lokpal Bill thing (look it up, interesting stuff). In short, there were massive demonstrations against corruption in government.

The core of the issue now is that they want to prevent this from happening again. They are taking it so far as claiming that wrongfully accusing someone of corruption is illegal. Also, demonstrating against corruption, in their minds, equals instigating rioting, which is also illegal. Now, with such censorships laws in place, next time this happens they can block all the twitter and facebook messages that go out calling people to stand up for their rights and against corruption. That’s the ultimate goal here.

Brendan (profile) says:

Re:

Hello logic failure. He did not say he was _against_ all censorship/blocking, just that any type of content removal by the government _is_ censorship.

That is, removing child porn from a website is censorship, but it is censorship I consider acceptable.

Similarly, removing copyrighted content whcih is allegedly infringing is also infringement. However, I do not think such censorship is acceptable until after an adversarial trial where a judge can determine if the use was fair etc.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re:

The US routinely shows its arrogance with its notion that a representative democracy is the most highly evolved form of government. That’s simply untrue and doesn’t work in cultures without at least a kernel of such traditions. I think the same holds true for standards of “censorship”. US-style free speech may not work for very single culture on the face of the earth.

Again, it’s not that I don’t believe in free speech, I simply think that the US version may not be suitable for everyone, everywhere.

Ah, moral relativism. Most people grow out of it once they actually have some principles. Others…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

I’m not arrogant enough to believe in moral absolutes. Particularly my own. What may be right and acceptable in one culture (or circumstance) is wrong and unacceptable in another.

Hell Masnick, you couldn’t believe it either. Otherwise you could not continue to defend those who wrongfully profit from exploiting the copyrighted the work of others without compensating the rightful owner and in violation of the law. Morally, our society holds that breaking society’s laws is wrong. But you seem to believe that in certain situations related to intellectual property rights that doesn’t hold. That’s moral relativism too Chubby.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re:

“I’m just suggesting that if any such censorship falls within those norms it’s no big deal and we ought not to judge other civil societies “

I’d have to correct you there, to be honest. Whether or not it fall within societal norms is irrelevant. Whether or not a majority consider it censorship is irrelevant. It’s still censorship, no matter which label people wish to apply to it.

There may be cultural differences as to what it is and isn’t acceptable to censor, but it’s still censorship either way. We can argue the finer points of who should censor what, and where the line comes where censorship actually infringes on speech and other freedoms, but it’s still censorship,

nasch (profile) says:

Re:

I’m just suggesting that if any such censorship falls within those norms it’s no big deal and we ought not to judge other civil societies by our own standard when it comes to their particular form of “censorship”.

That depends on whether you think liberty is something all humans have a right to enjoy, or if you think it’s just a cultural thing. If the former, then we should criticize any government for inappropriate censorship. If the latter, then it doesn’t really matter as long as they’re censoring in a matter consistent with their cultural beliefs. I believe in the former.

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