In a criminal complaint filed in India earlier this year, journalist Vinay Rai alleged that Facebook, YouTube, and the Orkut social network are hosting content that “seeks to create enmity, hatred and communal violence” and “will corrupt minds.” In response to the criminal complaint, Google and Facebook promptly filed a petition to stop the criminal proceedings.
The technology companies believe that the censorship laws are unfair and place an unfair liability on them for their users’ content. The laws require the companies to promptly remove all “ethnically objectionable,” “grossly harmful,” “defamatory” or “blasphemous” material within 36 hours or face criminal action. Mishi Choudhary, who is the Executive Director at the Software Freedom Law Center, indicated that the current laws have caused a “chilling effect” and must be overhauled:
“India has tried to distinguish itself from China because of having free speech and democracy – this just cuts a really sorry figure. We do not know who will be picked up to go to prison for what.”
Debbie Frost, a Facebook spokeswoman, said that Facebook is working to promote free speech and open communications while simultaneously complying with local laws:
Although many politicians and technology employees feel that Google and Facebook have a valid case, the Delhi High Court has decided to postpone the hearing until August 7th. In addition, the High Court has recommended that the lower court proceed with the criminal hearing on May 23rd. If the technology companies are convicted of violating the outdated censorship laws, the lower trial court could require company executives to pay hefty fines or even face imprisonment.