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IT Inc oppose Sibal’s ‘great’ firewall proposal

by Prasad Krishna last modified Dec 07, 2011 05:36 AM
Information Technology and social media experts have questioned telecom and IT minister Kapil Sibal’s directive to social media and search engine firms to remove "disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory" user generated content from India and are doubting the cogency of such an exercise.

"It is virtually impossible to monitor all incoming content. Yes, internet service providers — both mobile and landline — could install equipment to find and filter certain phrases, but this would prove expensive," said Mahesh Murthy, founder and CEO of Pinstorm, an internet marketing company with a global presence.

Websites such as Facebook and Youtube already have mechanisms in place to report objectionable photographs and content. If some particularly inflammatory content does manage to seep through such filters, a complaint to one of the Cyber Crime Cells would get it offline, Murthy said. "What Mr Sibal is trying to do is build a great firewall of India, but at what cost? It is clear he has no grasp of technology," he added. 

Such a "firewall" would not just curb freedom of speech, but could also reduce internet speeds, said Sampath Iyengar, social engineering officer with Neo Social7 Media Solutions, a social media company based in Mumbai. "This is a very complicated process, and quite unnecessary. We would need a lot of infrastructure similar to what China has," he said.

Nishant Shah, head of research at the Centre for Society and Internet, Bangalore, said keyword-based filtering is not the solution. "You wouldn’t want to end up with a situation where you are denied access to, say, the website of the University of Sussex because the address contains the word ‘sex’," he said. "So what we are really talking about is 10 million people sitting down and manually weeding through material, no less. Obviously, Kapil Sibal has not thought this through." India has over 100 million Internet users and about 30 million of them are on Facebook. Even by a conservative estimate, Facebook would need to scan through 90 million updates from India every day, Shah said. A Facebook representative, declined to talk to the media.

In the US, a similar move, in the form of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), has been vehemently opposed by the public on the grounds that it would clamp down on the free Web. The Act, if passed, would allow service providers to block websites suspected to be hosting or enabling the sharing of copyrighted content. In the first half of this year, India asked Google to remove 358 items — up from 282 in the second half of 2010 — that it found objectionable. In almost 300 of these cases, government criticism and defamation were cited as the reasons for removal.

The article by V Shoba was originally published in the Indian Express on December 7, 2011. Nishant Shah was quoted in this article. Read it here

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