August 2, 2011 | By Jillian York

This Week in Internet Censorship: China, India, and Faith-Based Censorship

Opposition to India's New Intermediary Liability Regulations

The world’s largest democracy has been known to censor online content from time to time, typically under the guise of national security or obscenity. The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team is tasked with issuing blocking orders, while Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure allows police commissioners to identify and order the blocking of material that contains a threat or nuisance to society.

As we noted on June 10, a new regulation [pdf] set to take effect soon prohibits intermediaries--such as content hosts and service providers--from hosting a slew of content, including: blasphemous or defamatory content, content which invades another’s privacy, content that is ‘racially or ethnically objectionable’, content that ‘harms minors in any way,’ and content that ‘infringes any patent, trademark, copyright or other proprietary rights.’

The directive also prohibits the hosting of content that "threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order or causes incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence or prevents investigation of any offence or is insulting any other nation."

Intermediaries must remove such content within 36 hours of being notified of a complaint, while those who refuse to adhere to the vague guidelines can be held liable. And cyber cafés--which drive the majority of Internet consumption in India and which are already heavily regulated and monitored--are included in the list of intermediaries and under the new rules would also be required to submit records of browsing activity to the government each month.

The rules are set to be approved by Parliament later this month, though according to the Washington Post, at least one official has suggested the government is open to changes in the regulations. Various groups, including India’s Centre for Internet and Society and the Cyber Cafe Association of India, have publicly objected to the policy as it currently stands.

China's censors can't keep up

According to a New York Times report, the recent train crash in China’s Zhejiang Province has sparked a flurry of free(er) expression on China’s weibos, Twitter-like microblogging services. While censors monitor weibos and remove content, their fast-paced nature makes it more difficult to control the influx of posts.

With official government orders for media groups not to report on the crash, the content on the various weibo platforms seems to only have increased. In a recent interview with On the Media Danwei.org founder Jeremy Goldkorn has stated that “so far, social media has beaten back government propaganda.”

New report on faith-based censorship

In a new report from the OpenNet Initiative, ‘faith-based Internet censorship’--the practice of controlling online information on the basis of religious principles--is analyzed across fifteen majority-Muslim countries. The report provides detailed analysis of the religious concepts, legal frameworks, and technical filtering that underlie the practice and looks at the various ways in which religion is used to justify the censorship of several content categories.

Though the degree of online censorship varies drastically between the fifteen countries highlighted in the paper, author Helmi Noman notes a unifying conundrum experienced by rights advocates in the various countries:

“Because proponents of faith-based censorship consider it a nonnegotiable divine policy, violators are labeled sinners rather than rights advocates, which leaves little room for democratic debate.”

Noman rightly points out that the absence of internationally accepted human rights frameworks in national laws presents difficulties for those fighting censorship in their countries.


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