Technology

Sibal denies ban even as Govt clears prosecution of social networking sites by courts

NEW DELHI: Even as the Government cleared the ground for prosecution of social networking sites like Facebook for permitting objectionable content, Communication and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal today said there was no plan to ban any sites or curb their freedom.


Speaking at Allahabad, the Minister said the case in the courts only related to obscene or communally dangerous matter on the websites.


Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court has listed for 16 January an appeal by the sites against notices issued by a trial court.


This is understood to have been stated in a reply filed by the Communications and Information Technology Ministry in the trial court where a case against the websites is pending.


In December, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal had also urged Facebook, Twitter, Google and others to remove offensive material, though he had said they could not be banned.


Earlier Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo India had sought exemption from a Delhi court as the matter is still pending before the High Court.


The trial court had issued summons to the various foreign-based social networking sites to face criminal charges for allegedly hosting objectionable contents and directed them to appear before it on 13 March.


It asked the Ministry of External Affairs to get the summons served on these companies. "Let the process (to serve the summons) on (foreign- based) accused be sent through the MEA as per the process," Metropolitan Magistrate Sudesh Kumar said.


The court direction came after the counsel, appearing for Facebook India, said over 10 out of 21 companies named as accused in the case were foreign-based and that the court would have to issue process to serve the summons on them.


The court was hearing a private complaint filed by journalist Vinay Rai against these firms for allegedly web-casting objectionable contents.


The court listed the matter for further hearing on 13 March and directed the accused to appear in person before it on the next date.


Advocate Shashi Tripathi, appearing for the complainant, committed to providing a fresh list of the addresses of the various foreign-based sites for the serving of the summons through the External Affairs Ministry.


During the hearing, Facebook India counsel Siddharth Luthra said that one of the accused, who is chairman of the Facebook, is based in California in the US and the court would have to direct the MEA for serving summons on him.


The counsel for Google India also asked the court to adjourn the matter today. He said that summons issued to accused companies Orkut, Youtube and Blogspot have been mistakenly served at their premises in India.


The court, which had earlier directed the Centre to take "immediate appropriate steps" in this regard, was told by the counsel for Communication and Information Technology Ministry a report would be filed soon.


The court had on 23 December last issued summons to them, which had led to some of them moving the High Court. The summons to the foreign firms had not been served.


The magistrate‘s December 23 order had come three days after another court in a civil case had restrained these sites including Facebook, Google and Youtube from webcasting any "anti-religious" or "anti-social" content promoting hatred or communal disharmony.


The magistrate had said, "It appears from a bare perusal of the documents that prima facie the accused in connivance with each other and other unknown persons are selling, publicly exhibiting and have put into circulation obscene, lascivious content".

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