Govt sanctions prosecution of social media firms over content

Arun S New Delhi | Updated on March 12, 2018



Court summons 21 accused to appear on Mar 13

The Department of Information Technology (DIT) has given its sanction to prosecute internet companies such as Facebook, Google, Youtube, Yahoo, Microsoft and Orkut on a complaint against them for allegedly allowing objectionable contents on their websites.

After the two-page sanction order was placed before it and on noting that many of the 21 accused firms named in the complaint were based overseas, a Delhi Metropolitan Magistrate court on Friday said the process of serving the summons to them be carried out through the External Affairs Ministry.

The court added that they should appear before it on March 13 when the matter would be heard next.

The Government’s sanction was needed due to an embargo under Section 196 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

This Section prohibits the court from taking cognisance of the offences punishable under Section 153-A (promoting enmity between classes), 153-B (assertion prejudicial to national integration), 295-A (insulting religion or religious belief of any class) along with 120-B (criminal conspiracy to commit such offences) of the Indian Penal Code, unless there is consent in writing (sanction order) by the Centre/state Government/District Magistrate for initiation of proceedings against the accused.

In this case, the sanctioning authority -- after going through the records and materials produced before it as well as confirmation of the availability of such content on the websites/search engines -- said it was “satisfied that there is sufficient material to proceed against the companies.”

The sanction order said the DIT had held four meetings with the representatives of Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft on the issue.

The allegations against the companies include “instigating enmity between different groups of people as well as doing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony and to national integration.”

The private complaint was filed by a journalist Mr Vinay Rai, whose counsel, Mr Shashi Tripathi, said he would submit a list of the addresses of the websites abroad to help serve the summons through the MEA. Senior advocate Mr Siddharth Luthra, representing Facebook India, had sought an adjournment for the day saying the matter was listed before the Delhi High Court and that the case file was in the High Court.

The companies named also include the Indian arms of Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft apart from Blogspot, Zombie Time, Exboii, Boardreader, IMC India, My Lot, Shyni Blog and Topix.

Published on January 13, 2012

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