Screen offensive content about PM, Sonia, Sibal tells Facebook

Kapil Sibal

Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal today asked Internet companies to screen alleged derogatory, defamatory and inflammatory content about religious figures and Indian leaders such as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the Web.

Officials from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo!, who met the minister, however, refused to make a commitment beyond saying they would look into any specific complaint that was brought to their notice.

Their response is learnt to have upset Sibal greatly ó more so because, sources said, a US embassy official called up an additional secretary in his ministry after the meeting to express displeasure over the Indian position.

"This is completely unacceptable. The embassy has no business interfering," a top official told The Indian Express this evening. Sibal himself declined to comment.

At the meeting, Sibal reportedly showed the executives some offensive pictures of Sonia Gandhi on a Facebook page.

"What do you think about these derogatory pictures of the Prophet Mohammed, the (Indian) prime minister and the Congress president? Anybody will feel outraged. The government of India does not believe in censorship. But sensitivity and feelings of different communities cannot be allowed to be hurt. They (the Internet companies) host these sites and they must regulate it (the content)," a top official functionary said.

Sources said Sibal has been taking up the issue with Internet companies for the past three months, but has got no positive response. The New York Times reported on its website today that Sibal had had a first meeting with "top Internet service providers and Facebook" about six weeks ago, and had met the same executives again in late November.

In the first meeting, NYT said, Sibal had showed the executives a Facebook page that "maligned" Sonia, and told them, "This is unacceptable". In the second meeting, Sibal had told them "that he expected them to use human beings to screen content, not technology", NYT said, quoting an unnamed executive.

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