New Delhi: Google and Facebook argued in the Delhi High Court today that there is no way for them to screen content before it is posted online. Both companies are among 21 whose executives have been summoned to appear in person in a lower court on March 13 for allegedly hosting obscene and objectionable content.
Google also said that the Indian subsidiary cannot be held responsible for an act by its parent company. The judge was not impressed with this argument. "Are you not a beneficiary of Google Inc's business? If some illegal activity is being carried out by a tenant and the landlord is a beneficiary, then how can the landlord not know what's happening?" he asked.
Google's counsel, Neeraj Kishan Kaul argued, "It's easy for people to say you can use filters. If we were to block the word 'sex', for instance, all data on ration cards, passports etc. will get blocked in one go, as the word 'sex' figures in all this data."
The company said that as a search engine, it leads to surfers to sites they're looking for. "The offending material belongs to the website, controlled by the owner of the website. Google has nothing to do with it," Mr Kaul added.
Last week, 12 of the companies involved in this case said they are headquartered internationally. The government is now issuing summons to their executives abroad, asking them to be present on the March 13 hearing.
The legal trouble for companies including Orkut, Yahoo and YouTube is based on a petition filed by Vinay Rai, a Delhi resident who has pointed the court to obscene depictions that he found online of Hindu deities, the Prophet Mohammed and Jesus Christ. A Delhi court has suggested the executives of these 21 companies be tried for criminal conspiracy; the government has sanctioned their prosecution. The companies appealed against this in the High Court, which warned last week that like China, India can choose to ban these websites. (Read: What triggered case against Facebook, Google)
Many experts have pointed out that users of all websites have the option to report objectionable content and that Indian laws make it essential for sites to then examine and delete content within a fixed period, if it's found to violate Indian guidelines.
"There are serious issues regarding freedom of speech. We have this freedom in our country unlike a totalitarian regime like China. We are proud we have this freedom," said Mr Kaul on behalf of Google.