India minister Sibal says no censorship of social media

Indian Communications Minister Kapil Sibal
Image caption Communications Minister Kapil Sibal has taken a strong line on the issue

India will not censor social media websites, Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal has said.

But he added that internet firms must obey the country's laws.

Late last year, Mr Sibal said the government would introduce guidelines to ensure "blasphemous material" did not appear on the internet.

Internet firms say it is impossible to pre-filter material, but Facebook and Google recently said they had removed content after receiving complaints.

The firms are among a number of major internet players facing court cases and judges have threatened to block sites that fail to crack down on offensive content.

"I want to say once and for all, without any obfuscation, no government in India will ever censor social media," news agency AFP quoted Mr Sibal as saying at an information technology summit in Mumbai.

"I never wanted to censor social media and no government wants to do so. But like the print and electronic media, they have to obey the laws of the country," Mr Sibal said.

Crackdown threat

A court in the capital, Delhi, last month threatened a crackdown against sites which failed to take steps to protect religious sensibilities.

The Delhi High Court asked Facebook and Google India to "develop a mechanism to keep a check and remove offensive and objectionable material from their web pages" or "like China, we will block all such websites".

Image caption Many internet firms say it is impossible to pre-filter material

Facebook and Google say they have complied with the court directive and removed "objectionable" material.

They are among 21 web firms, including Yahoo and Orkut, facing a civil suit in Delhi accusing them of hosting material that may cause communal unrest.

A criminal case of similar allegations is due to be heard next month.

Internet firms argue that it is not feasible to pre-monitor material posted by "billions of people across the globe".

Google says that the issue also relates to a constitutional issue of freedom of speech and expression.

Facebook says policies are in place that enable people to report abusive content.

In December, Mr Sibal said his aim was to ensure that "insulting material never gets uploaded. We will evolve guidelines and mechanisms to deal with the issue".

He said the companies would have to give the data where these images were being uploaded and who was doing it.

Mr Sibal was angered by morphed photos of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi, as well as images of pigs in Islam's holy city of Mecca.

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