The Union IT and Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal has reportedly told major international websites operating in India such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to prescreen user content 'to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it goes online'.
If this is true, we are in for an Internet 'Emergency' and this move should be opposed by not only the companies that have been 'asked' to prescreen content, but also by every citizen of this country. Internet censorship is an abhorrent practice, and is currently in vogue in only totalitarian states such as North Korea, China and Iran.
While any defamatory content posted online without the requisite proof must be fought in appropriate forums, no democratic state take the right of its citizens to post their views online.
Unfortunately, in India, this is becoming part of a sinister pattern to control online behaviour. Earlier this year, the government actually asked Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to remove content that officials and citizens found offensive. While scurrilous content must indeed be fought, to prescreen all content is like killing the animal when the leg's got an infection.
And there are mechanisms already in place to fight such content. So why does the overenthusiastic but ignorant minister insist on continuing this farcical conversation? It would seem that the spark for this brilliant idea to subvert a democratic process was ignited after he saw a Facebook page that made disparaging remarks against his party boss and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
If he indeed wanted to impress the boss, all he had to do was file a police complaint against the creator of the page, and let the courts decide on the violations, if there were any. Instead, Mr Sibal's action smacks of extreme sycophancy where loyalty to the Gandhi family assumes greater importance than loyalty to the spirit of the law. It is indeed ironic that Mr Sibal is a Supreme Court lawyer.