The government on Friday sanctioned the prosecution of 21 social networking sites — including Facebook and Google — for carrying content that allegedly promotes enmity between classes.
A Delhi metropolitan magistrate’s court directed the ministry of external affairs to get summonses served on the companies, including over 10 foreign-based web giants.
The development comes a day after the Delhi high court refused to stay criminal proceedings against the websites and warned that they could be “blocked”, like in China, if they failed to remove objectionable content.
The companies face prosecution for promoting enmity between groups on grounds of religion, race, language, etc., acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony and national integration, deliberate acts intended to outrage religious feelings — all of which carry a maximum three-year jail sentence.
Monitoring content on the net, especially that which is user-generated, has been a controversial issue.
IT minister Kapil Sibal had earlier raised the issue with the representatives of some of these companies and discussed ways to ensure such content is not posted.
But before the two sides could work out a solution, two individuals filed separate cases — one criminal, one civil — in Delhi against the websites.
While the metropolitan magistrate summoned the websites on December 23 last year — the summonses could not be executed till now for want of prior sanction of the central or state government or district magistrate, as required under the Information Technology Act — a civil judge on December 24 ordered the sites to remove all "anti-religious" or "anti-social" content by February 6, 2012.