The government is cracking down on over 250 websites and blogs that it has identified as having participated in the online campaign of hatred against Indians from the North-East, and it might seek the help of countries like the US and Saudi Arabia to force these offline.
Law Minister Salman Khurshid has promised that the government will not take any irrational step to curb freedom of expression, but says the crackdown is needed to prevent any further damage.
Mr Khurshid said, "I do believe that the Home Minister is working 24x7 to ensure that he is able to intercept and prevent any such damaging exercise, but over the months there has been little diversion caused by people who have raised issues of liberty, freedom of expression, interference with social media. There is no intention by the government to do anything which would be considered unreasonable, irrational or excessive."
The Department of Telecom (DoT) has said that objectionable content is still available online and that faster action is needed from social networking sites which have not responded to requests to urgently delete inflammatory posts. (Read Department of Telecom's statement here
The (DoT) said social networking sites have been requested to provide registration details for those who uploaded communally-charged photos and messages, but in many cases, the government says, "Proxy servers and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services which hides the user identity... appear to have been used for uploading the content."
Sources say the Government of India is likely to seek help from Saudi Arabia and the US, where some servers used to circulate inflammatory and hate pictures are based. It might also take the legal route and use Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) and Letter-Rogatories to seek information from these countries.
India has said nearly 40 per cent of the doctored and incendiary online images originated in Pakistan and were uploaded across the border, and that evidence of this will be shared with Islamabad; some information will be given initially, sources said, and depending on how Pakistan responds, the rest of it will be shared. Pakistan's first response has been denial, but its Interior Minister Rehman Malik said yesterday that if India shared evidence, Pakistan would investigate.
Morphed photos that were hosted and circulated online misrepresented victims of earthquakes as Muslims killed in ethnic riots in Myanmar and Assam. Online posts and text messages in cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad warned of a reprisal. Thousands of people from states like Assam, Manipur and Mizoram boarded special trains to spend a few days at home; many said they will return to the cities where they live and work in the next few weeks.
The material that has been posted online has given new expression to the fractious relationship between the government and international social networks, many of who were taken to court in December on charges that include hosting content intended to create communal hatred. In its note today, the Department of Telecom complained, "An intermediary social networking site has responded that the up-loaders of the inflammatory and hateful content are outside the jurisdiction of the country, thereby implying that they are not obliged to take any constructive step to deal with it." The note says that the Department of Electronics & Information Technology held a meeting with executives from international social networking sites, but without the desired effect. "A lot more and quicker action is expected from them (social networks) to address such a sensitive issue," the government has warned.