India calls Facebook, Yahoo, Google to screen user content

The Indian government has asked Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and other Internet networks to screen user content to cut out defamatory and offensive material, officials said Tuesday.

Communications Minister Kapil Sibal met with representatives of the companies in New Delhi and requested that all content was checked before it was uploaded onto social websites.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi, spokesman for the ruling Congress party, confirmed the meeting, saying “talks which are going on are only in respect of absolutely illegal, defamatory, pornographic or other similar kind of material”.

The Hindustan Times said the Internet companies had firmly rejected Sibal’s appeal, saying a huge volume of information was put on social networks from India and that they were not responsible for judging its content.

At Monday’s meeting, Sibal raised the example of a religious website that turned out to display pornographic images, the newspaper said citing unnamed sources.

It said Sibal had earlier complained about a site that attacked Sonia Gandhi, the influential president of the ruling Congress party. He also requested that humans, not technology, screen content before it was posted.

Sibal was not immediately available for comment, but the Times of India quoted him as saying “the Indian government doesn’t believe in censorship. It believes in self-regulation.”

BlackBerry maker RIM has also been embroiled in a dispute with the Indian government over access to encrypted email and instant message services that New Delhi fears could be used by extremists to plot attacks.

Sibal’s requests for Internet screening quickly attracted a storm of criticism on Twitter, with many users expressing anger over any attempt to restrict usage.