Google, Facebook summoned, what next?


2 May 2011
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Three of the world's largest internet companies - Google, Facebook, Yahoo - and 18 other companies have been summoned to face trial in January by the Patiala court for "willfully promoting and publicising offensive material for commercial gains". The debate, on what gets to stay online and what does not, has been heating up in India with the government's recent attempts to censor the internet.

What does this mean to the openness of internet?

The case appears to have been filed with a larger motive of going after the intermediaries, says Sunil Abraham of the Center for Internet and Society. "It could be an attempt to rally public support for the government."

Indian rules require websites to remove offensive content from their sites within 36 hours of receiving a takedown notice. Failure to do so may lead to court proceedings.

Experts say Indian law is asking companies to take down offensive content without applying their "brains" or terms and conditions they operate under when they receive a takedown notice. If the content creator can prove that it is not offensive, it can be put back up on. Most US-based firms like Facebook and Google operate under the terms and conditions governed by the US law.

Supreme Court lawyer Pavan Duggal says, "Even if you are not based in India and your services are targeted on Indian computers or an Indian customer you will have to comply with Indian laws." With public dialogue, jurisdiction will evolve, he says.

"A legal confrontation at this point is good, to establish protocol on how to interact with the internet," says Nishant Shah, director of research at the Center for Internet and Society.

Cyber lawyer Vakul Sharma says the ambiguity in defining freedom of expression is a problem in India. "Freedom of expression is relative. It comes with certain restrictions," he said.

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