India Clarifies Controversial Web Rules
The Wall Street Journal reported today on Google’s objections to Indian Internet regulations that went into effect last month. Now the Indian government is out with a statement to clarify the controversial rules, which require Web sites to take down certain types of content deemed objectionable.
The statement from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology defended the government’s restrictions, saying they rightly require that Internet companies observe “due diligence” in order to enjoy exemption from liability for content posted by third parties.“These due diligence practices are the best practices followed internationally by well-known mega corporations operating on the Internet,” the statement said.
The new rules bar a variety of broad categories of Web content, including anything “grossly harmful,” “harassing,” or “ethnically objectionable.” Internet companies are expected to remove objectionable content within 36 hours after being notified by authorities. Civil liberties advocates have expressed fears that the rules are too open to interpretation and could be used by the government to restrict free speech on the Web.
The ministry’s statement said “There is no intention of the Government to acquire regulatory jurisdiction over content under these Rules…. 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 raised its objections about a draft version of the rules in a February memo obtained by WSJ. That memo shows that the company unsuccessfully sought several specific changes to limit its potential liability for third-party content and to scale back a list of banned content that it said was “too prescriptive.”
The Indian government has not publicly released comments and feedback submitted by Google or other companies or organizations. The ministry’s statement defended what it said has been a “very transparent process” of Internet rulemaking, noting that there was widespread media coverage of the draft rules.
A Google India spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the government’s clarifications but late Wednesday the company issued a statement.
“If Internet platforms are held liable for third party content, it would lead to self-censorship and reduce the free flow of information,” said the statement.
Previously, the spokeswoman declined to comment on India’s Web rules but noted that Google has “actively talked about our belief in the need for governments across the world to protect Internet platforms in order to grow the digital economy and safeguard freedom of expression.” The spokeswoman pointed to the company’s writings on its public policy blog.
UPDATE, 8:00 p.m.: This blog was updated to reflect that Google issued a statement on the matter.