Last month, Government of India's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology finalized the Internet control rules in the country, and according to the Wall Street Journal, Google Inc. has responded by sending a confidential memo to the Indian regulators stating that proposed restrictions on Internet content could hamper the company and others in a promising market by exposing them to liability for a broad swath of material published by third parties.
The last time Google was faced with censorship - in China - it reacted aggressively.
According to the research platform ViziSense by Komli Media, Google's search service was India's most popular website in March, with 56.3 million visitors while Google's social networking site Orkut had about 14 million visitors. Orkut already has an agreement with cybercrime wings of state police departments to block forums and communities and as well as track down users by sharing their IP addresses.
The amended Internet policy in India states that any user of a computer resource is to not host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share any information that- is grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatsoever. It further states that the website has to act within thirty six hours of notification to remove any information the government deems objectionable.
Google's memo said regulations on Internet companies "play a crucial role in determining how free a medium of communication the Internet will be for the world's peoples, especially the millions of Indians who are increasingly making use of it in their everyday lives." But the company has sought removal of a provision that said an Internet company must delete objectionable content after "obtaining actual knowledge by itself" of the material or after notification by authorities. Google wants to relieve companies such as itself of the responsibility to decide what is illegal, and instead rely on a written notice from "a court of law or other legally empowered public authority."
In response to the objections raised by Google Inc, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology released a statement defending the government's restrictions, saying it requires Internet companies to observe "due diligence" in order to enjoy exemption from liability for content posted by third parties.
The ministry's statement said, "There is no intention of the Government to acquire regulatory jurisdiction over content under these Rulesâ€¦. The Government has been forward looking to create a conducive environment for the Internet medium to catapult itself onto a different plane with the evolution of the Internet. The Government remains fully committed to freedom of speech and expression and the citizen's rights in this regard."
Google quickly responded with a statement yesterday which said, "We believe that a free and open Internet is essential for the growth of digital economy and safeguarding freedom of expression. If Internet platforms are held liable for third party content, it would lead to self-censorship and reduce the free flow of information. The regulatory framework should ideally help protect Internet platforms and people's abilities to access information."
The new rules are a cause for concern for Google and also the other Internet providers when it comes to implementation, given the sheer volume of content online. Today, India has around 11.87 million broadband users, according to the telecom regulatory authority of India. According to analysts at Caris & Co., the number will reach to 180 to 200 million by 2015.