New Delhi: The Delhi High Court will today hear the petition filed by Google and Facebook, challenging the summons issued to them by a lower court.
The summons by the trial court to 21 companies came on a complaint filed by journalist Vinay Rai, who demanded that action be taken against the internet giants for objectionable content posted on their websites.
The government has sanctioned the prosecution of executives from companies like Google and Facebook for objectionable content posted online.
On Thursday, the Delhi High Court, while refusing to stay the trial court's summons, warned the companies that if they failed to devise a mechanism to filter obscene and objectionable content, their websites could be blocked. Twenty-one Internet companies are in legal trouble. Charges against them will include "promoting enmity between groups" and "deliberate malicious acts intended to outrage". Since some of the charges requested in court are non-bailable, the government had to indicate whether it agreed with the need for the websites to stand trial.
A Delhi court has also asked the government to issue summons to more than 10 companies who have said they are head-quartered abroad, like Facebook, YouTube and Yahoo. The executives of all 21 companies have been ordered to appear in court on March 13. They may face criminal charges.
Internet companies, however, say they cannot develop a method to monitor defamatory or obscene material that's been posted on their sites. "No human interference is possible, and moreover, it can't be feasible to check such incidents. Billions of people across the globe post their articles on the website." That met with an angry response from the Delhi High Court, which said, "You just have a stringent check. Otherwise, like China, we may pass orders banning all such web sites."
The case centres on a petition filed in December by Mr Rai, who referred to obscene depictions online of Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohammed, and various Hindu deities. In response, a Delhi magistrate summoned the executives of 21 companies and suggested they face trial for criminal conspiracy. The magistrate had said, "It appears from a bare perusal of the documents that the accused, in connivance with each other and other unknown persons, are selling, publicly exhibiting and have put into circulation obscene, lascivious content". (Watch: Why I have taken Google, Facebook to court)
Speaking to NDTV, Mr Rai had said, "It was this court that had considered this issue important. This court had sent summons to the concerned parties. Our hope for justice continues." Explaining why he took companies like Facebook and Google to court, he added, "I have spoken to all religious leaders in this case and even all political party leaders. I asked them if they considered the content we have as valid. They said, 'you can cast aspersions on leaders personally but such comments on leaders in public can cause riots'. Why should we allow this?"