The world’s largest democracy has begun censoring the web.
Google India and Facebook removed content Monday on the orders of the Indian government, which had issued a court order asking for censorship of pages offensive to Indian’s political and religious leaders, the Associated Press reports. The government also sought to censor content from YouTube and Blogspot, saying these sites had two weeks to start better policing their networks.
And yet attempted censorship — at least on the Web — is just as bad or worse in several other democracies. Google’s Transparency Report shows that while the Indian government made 68 requests to remove content between January and June of last year (51 percent of which were at least partially complied with), Germany, the United States, South Korea and Taiwan have made even more requests. The U.K. made 65 requests, just three less than India.
And a closer look at the Transparency Report reveals that much of the content Indian authorities asked to be removed was critical of politicians — not religious leaders. Among the reasons the government gave for their requests were “defamation” or “government criticism.”
It has been a particularly tough year for the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has been accused of turning a blind eye to rampant corruption, so much so that anti-corruption protests spread nationwide.
Last week, in another move worrying for free speech, the Indian government announced that it taps nearly 300 new phones every day.
But in Germany, the Transparency Report numbers are far worse: 125 content removal requests, and 86 percent compliance (almost double the requests by India). And the vast majority of these requests came from government court orders over defamation.
In the U.S., requests focused heavily on defamation as well as copyright.
Some takedown requests are more opaque in nature. The majority of South Korea’s and the U.K.’s takedown requests went to YouTube, citing concerns over “privacy and security.” In Taiwan, nearly all requests went to Gmail, with the Transparency Report listing “other” as the reason.
Yet one thing is clear — Web censorship in democracies is not going away.
Just last month, Twitter announced a new policy to censor tweets in countries where the content might break laws. Last week, China and Thailand announced their overwhelming support of the new policy.
Ai Weiwei, a Chinese dissident and prolific tweeter, wrote on Twitter of the company’s new policy: “If Twitter censors, I’ll stop tweeting.”
In light of the censorship Monday, Indians on Twitter were just as angry. Many tweeted links to Indian Facebook pages they were surprised remained online, including two Facebook pages protesting Congress.
“Keep an eye on all these very soon they’ll be removed,” one Indian tweeter warned.