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?