The Indian government has censored internet postings from foreign media outlets social networks including (but not limited to) Facebook, Telegraph and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The Indian government also dramatically curbed the amount of SMS messages allowed by users across the entire country while all MMS is virtually banned – all in the next 15 days.
India’s government says its moves this week to block websites, Twitter accounts and news portals was necessary to reduce simmering tensions over ethnic violence in the northeast of the country.
Authorities have the power to do exactly that thanks in part to the country’s controversial new IT law established in April 2011.
However, those rules say authorities must give companies 48 hours notice before blocking Web pages. In cases of emergency, New Delhi can block first and inform a special government committee within 48 hours. In all cases, that committee must notify the blocked sites.
Many of the sites that India’s authorities blocked or intended to block, included Twitter accounts of anti-government commentators and mainstream news organizations. Account and website owners said they were given no forewarning of the actions and weren’t contacted afterwards, either.
Indian news website Firstpost.com and Kanchan Gupta, a newspaper columnist who is critical of the government, were among those who faced blocks. Mr. Gupta and First Post Editor-in-Chief R. Jagannathan both said they were not contacted by the government either before or after the blocks.
India’s government has defended its conduct by saying the blocked Web pages and Twitter handles were inciting communal hatred amid recent violence between Muslims and northeasterners in the state of Assam that has cost almost 80 lives.
“We are only taking strict action against those accounts or people which are causing damage or spreading rumors. We are not taking action against other accounts, be it on Facebook, Twitter or even SMSes. There is no censorship at all,” the Home Ministry said in a statement Friday.
The latest clampdown comes as public-interest groups are pressing the government to scrap the latest Web censorship laws. Critics say the rules not only limit free speech but also expose Internet companies to unfair liability for material posted by Web users.