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New Rules in India Tighten Limits on Online Speech

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, April 27 2011

Cyber Cafe in Varanasi; photo by hartjeff12.

India's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology quietly rolled out new rules on online speech, reports the New York Times' Vikas Bajaj reports from Mumbai:

The new rules , issued by the Indian Department of Information Technology this month without much publicity, allow officials and private citizens to demand that Internet sites and service providers remove content that they consider objectionable by drawing from a long list of reasons.

Critics say that the new regulations could severely curtail debate and discussion on the Internet, use of which has been growing quickly in India. The list of objectionable content is sweeping and, for instance, includes anything that “threatens the unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order.”

One question, of course, is how the people of India cope with such restrictions. But another is what it means for platform companies like Facebook and Google who do business in India. Bajaj reports that they're expected to comply, and quickly:

The rules require Internet “intermediaries” — an all-encompassing group that includes sites like YouTube and Facebook and companies that are host to Web sites or that provide Internet connections — to respond to any demand to take down offensive content within 36 hours. The rules do not offer a way for content producers to defend their work.

If online restrictions on anything that offends anyone at anytime weren't provocative enough, catch this part of the new law, having to do with cyber cafes, already licensed by the government: "The screen of all computers, installed other than in Partitions or Cubicles, shall face 'outward', i.e. they shall face the common open space."