Centre for Internet & Society

In a debate moderated by TIMES NOW's Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, panelists Chandan Mitra, Editor-in-Chief, 'The Pioneer' & MP, BJP; Sabeer Bhatia, Co-founder, Hotmail; Sunil Abraham, Executive Director, Centre for Internet and Society; Ankit Fadia, Ethical Hacker; Suhel Seth, Managing Partner Counselage; Pradeep Gupta, Chairman, Cyber Media and Rajesh Charia, President, Internet Service Providers Association of India discuss the issue if the Government should make clear definition of what is objectionable to internet/social media companies and draw a clear distinction between communally incitable material and political censorship.

Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal today (Dec 6) vowed to stop offensive and defamatory content on internet sites as a controversy raged over government's move to monitor content in cyber space. Maintaining that the government does not want to interfere with the freedom of the press, he said if the social networking sites are not willing to cooperate with the government on stopping incendiary material "then it is the duty of the government to think of steps that we need." Sibal's hurriedly-called press conference came against backdrop of government's meetings with the officials from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo over last few weeks after offensive material particularly against Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was put on the net. He said his request for cooperation from them fell on "deaf ears" and "we will not allow intermediaries to say that the throw up our hands and we cannot do anything about it."

Facebook in its reaction said it will cooperate in removing any content that violates its terms which are designed to keep material that is hateful, threatening, incites violence or contains nudity off the service. Google said it will abide by local law and take any material if it violates its policies but asserted that it will not remove any content just because it is controversial. Google said that when content is illegal it abides by local law and removes it. And even where the content is legal but violates "our terms and conditions, we take that down too, once we have been notified." However, it says, when content is legal and does not violate its policies, it will not remove just because it is controversial.

Even as Sibal defended the government's move, criticism poured in the cyber space that India should not emulate countries like China in attempting to gag freedom of expression. However, the Minister got support from Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP, who is popular in cyber world. "Have to say I support Kapil Sibal on the examples he gave me: deeply offensive material about religions & communities that could incite riots," Tharoor tweeted. But his political rivals and MPs Varun Gandhi and Jayant Choudhary differed. Gandhi said Internet is the only truly democratic medium free of "vested interests, media owners & paid-off journos. Can see why Sibal wants to gag it," he said. Chaudhary said "Censorship of the internet - Forget the desirability issue for a minute, IS IT EVEN POSSIBLE??!!!"

Sunil Abraham was on Times Now from 9.05 p.m. to 9.45 p.m. on December 6, 2011 speaking about freedom of expression in India.

See the debate on Times Now