India court to issue summons to Google, Facebook executives

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Internet companies accused of failing to censor objectionable content on their sites.

A trial court in India Friday moved ahead with a criminal case against Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., Facebook Inc., Yahoo! Inc. and some other entities, by issuing summons to the global executives of these companies for allegedly failing to censor objectionable content from their websites.
The criminal case against these global firms follows a complaint from journalist Vinay Rai, who alleged offenses such as defamation, obscenity and promoting enmity among different groups on grounds of religion and race against these sites.
Metropolitan Magistrate Jay Thareja, who is hearing the case, issued the summons to the executives through the federal home ministry, asking them to appear in person or through their counsels before the court on Sept. 22.
India’s home ministry will pass on the summons to its U.S. counterparts, who in turn will send them to the companies.
India and the U.S.–where the companies are based–are signatories to an international treaty for mutual legal assistance, which requires summons to companies or individuals facing criminal charges to be sent through diplomatic channels.
The judge also issued summons to executives of Youtube LLC, Orkut, and Blogspot, three entities owned by Google.
Youtube is a popular video-sharing service, while Orkut is a social networking website, and Blogspot is a web-based publishing portal.
Facebook declined to comment, whereas Google, Microsoft and Yahoo weren’t immediately available for comment.
The case is the highest-stakes example yet of the controversy in India over what role Internet companies should have in policing content on the Web. If convicted, executives from the companies could face jail time and the companies could face fines, lawyers following the case said.
The local units of these Internet firms have argued that they shouldn’t be held liable for objectionable content posted by users and also that their Indian subsidiaries can’t be held liable because their services are operated by parent companies in the U.S. Some of them have been dropped from the case.
Google and Facebook have moved the Delhi High Court to quash the ongoing criminal proceedings at the trial court, and that appeal will be next heard Aug. 7.
The web entities also face a civil lawsuit filed by a citizen, with almost identical accusations to the criminal case. They also face pressure from India’s information technology ministry to monitor their sites proactively, with an eye toward removing content deemed “offensive” in the country.