The futility of censorship

Published: January 16, 2012

An Indian court has threatened to block sites such as Facebook and Google unless they take steps to eliminate "offensive and objectionable" content.

When considering what level of freedom a country wants, government bodies may want to avoid emulating China. Yet that is exactly what the Delhi High Court, which seems to take its role as a censor as seriously as the high court in its brother city Lahore, has done, saying, “You must have a stringent check. Otherwise, like in China, we may pass orders banning all such websites.” The websites in question refer to Facebook and Google, two websites that have also been under threat in Pakistan for their apparently dangerous belief that information should be freely shared. The Delhi High Court made this case for internet censorship on the grounds that the websites need to screen all images to make sure there is nothing religiously insensitive or that fake nude pictures of politicians are not uploaded.

The danger of online censorship being practiced in the largest democracy in the world is even more acute because the Indian government has also thrown its weight behind this case, all in the name of inter-religious harmony. For a country that touts itself as a hospitable environment for technology companies to operate in, this would be a profoundly self-defeating move. Google saw no compunction in pulling out of China, one of the largest markets in the world, when authorities there tried to censor its search results. India cannot afford to do the same. A law passed last year by the Indian parliament holds companies responsible for content uploaded to sites by users. Given that it is nearly impossible for sites to monitor everything, this law needs to be repealed.

As we have seen in Pakistan, once the authorities decide they have the power to censor the internet they always go too far. And the way the internet is structured and works, such bans simply do not work. Petitions that call for the wholesale censorship of the internet need to summarily for precisely this reason: giving governments so much power always leads to abuse of that power.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2012.

on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook

Reader Comments (4)

  • MarkH
    Jan 16, 2012 - 7:28AM

    Censorship is like world peace. Unless you can get the whole world to agree with each other at the same time, you’re going to fail.
    It may not happen in your immediate surroundings. But other people, somewhere, are still going to make you live with it.
    Solution? People need a combination of obtaining a sense of humor, taking responsibility to their own reactions and stop expecting people go out of their way to pander to and shelter a cry baby.

    Recommend

  • harkol
    Jan 16, 2012 - 1:15PM

    Banning websites for what is published is an absurd concept. At this rate, govt. will want to ban paper manufacturing companies, for what is written on them!

    Also, considering 40% of all traffic on internet lands on facebook & google, banning them is almost like banning half the Internet!!

    And what is to stop people from taking their junk elsewhere?

    People’s right expression, speech and information are fundamental rights. And no sane country provides a right not to be offended!!

    Recommend

  • Mehwish Ashraf
    Jan 16, 2012 - 8:26PM

    I am wondering what will become of the India’s 3rd ranking in the fb statistics recently published by ‘Social bakers’ :S Loss of another prestigious award I guess!!!

    Recommend

  • Tarun
    Jan 19, 2012 - 12:53AM

    I think censorship is certainly no way out what we need to do is make the current mechanisms used by these sites more robust that would solve the whole issue.
    An article that highlights it

    What internet censorship in India means :: To Me,You & Online India

    http://tinyurl.com/7v3wotm #censorship

    Recommend

More in Pakistan