New Delhi/Washington, DC – The Indian Prime Minister’s office on Friday issued a statement in an attempt at damage control, as the cyber world erupted in protest against threats from New Delhi to censure social media.
The statement from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office read: “The Prime Minister’s Office had requested Twitter to take appropriate action against 6 persons impersonating the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office). When they did not reply for a long time the Government Cyber Security Cell was requested to initiate action. Twitter has now conveyed to us that action has been taken stating “we have removed the reported profiles from circulation due to violation of our Terms of Service regarding impersonation.”
A day earlier on Thursday, the United States reiterated its earlier call to the Indian Government to respect freedom of expression in the online world, according to the US State department.
Answering questions on New Delhi’s alleged threats toward US companies, including Twitter, Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the US Department of State, said, “We’ve said all along, and as we said publicly here, as the Indian government seeks to preserve security, we are urging them also to take into account the importance of freedom of expression in the online world.”
On Friday, Kapil Sibal, Indian Minister for Communication and Information Technology, explained that, in spite of the Indian government’s limited ability to take direct action against objectionable social media sites, that progress was being made. “The difficulty is that Twitter is a site, which operates from outside India and the server of all such sites are outside the jurisdiction of India,” said Sibal. “We are happy that Facebook and Google are cooperating with us and the names of the objectionable sites that we had provided them; they cooperated with us on them and decided to close down those sites. We have also imposed restriction on those sites.”
Minister Sibal said about Twitter, “Now they have said that they are ready for talks with us. But the solution to this problem should be a permanent one. That will only happen when we talk to all the stakeholders and form such a mechanism under which any objectionable content is removed.”
About the government’s power to gag social media, Sibal said, “We can take action, but in that case restrictions are also imposed on people who are right on their part. So, we don’t want that to happen.”
Sibal reiterated that the Indian government would be pressing social media sites to investigate, saying, “We have provided 28 URL numbers under which objectionable material is being shown. Now the government does not know that who is behind these URL numbers, only Twitter and other sites are aware about it.”
“Later if those URL numbers are innocent, and then the accusations would be thrown at the government. Actually, we don’t have the identities; we have no way to find out the identities,” said Sibal, concluding, “So, the accusations that we are aggressively targeting someone’s account or websites are incorrect.”
On Thursday, the US expressed its willingness to assist with communication between India and the US companies, Nuland told journalists at the daily press briefing, saying, “Our understanding is that the Indian government is working with a number of our companies – Google, Facebook, and now Twitter – and we stand ready to be helpful if we can, as we always do with our companies in those conversations.”
Nuland clarified Washington’s position, saying, “The general principle of respect for freedom of expression, respect for the unique characteristics of the online environment, needs to be respected even as they work through whether there are things these companies can do to help calm the environment.”
“Fundamentally, freedom of expression on the internet has been a keystone issue for the Secretary (of State Hillary Clinton). We discuss it in terms of human rights and universal freedoms. We look to work with our companies and with governments around the world to protect and preserve an open environment,” added Nuland.
Commenting on India’s threats to “restrict or nationalize the internet,” and finding balance, Nuland said, “We also would always have concerns about incitement and hate speech and this kind of thing. So it’s always a balance, but in general, we want to see a free and open internet and we want to see our companies have a good dialogue with the governments.”
The Indian government is blaming US-based Internet sites like Facebook and Twitter for the exodus of tens of thousand of Indians belonging to North Eastern states, after rumors spread across India that Muslims in Bangalore and other southern cities would attack migrants. (IATNS)