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Govt sanctions prosecution of Google, Facebook

Govt sanctions prosecution of Google, Facebook

The Centre told a Delhi court on Friday that there is sufficient material to proceed against the 21 social networking sites.

New Delhi: The Government has given sanction for the prosecution of 21 social networking sites like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo India in the ongoing spat between the companies and the Government of India over content regulation.

The Centre told a Delhi court on Friday that there is sufficient material to proceed against the 21 social networking sites for offences of promoting enmity between classes and causing prejudice to national integration.

"The sanctioning authority has personally gone through the entire records and materials produced before him and after considering and examining the same, he is satisfied that there is sufficient material to proceed against the accused persons under section 153-A, 153-B and 295-A of the IPC," the Centre said in its report placed before Metropolitan Magistrate Sudesh Kumar.

The two-page report was placed after the court directed Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to get the summons served on over 10 foreign-based companies. The summons were issued on December 23 last but they remained unserved.

Earlier in the day, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo India etc. had sought exemption from a Delhi court as the matter is still pending before the High Court.

The court direction came after the counsel, appearing for Facebook India, said over 10 out of 21 companies named as accused in the case were foreign-based and that the court would have to issue process to serve the summons on them.

The court was hearing a private complaint filed by a journalist Vinay Rai against these firms for allegedly web-casting objectionable contents.

The summons were issues to the sites including Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Youtube.

"Let the process (to serve the summons) on (foreign- based) accused be sent through the MEA as per the process," Metropolitan Magistrate Sudesh Kumar said.

The court listed the matter for further hearing on March 13 and directed the accused to appear in person before it on the next date.

"The accused are allowed exemption for today only but are directed to appear in person on the next date of hearing without fail," the magistrate said.

The court passed the order after advocate Shashi Tripathi, appearing for the complainant, told the magistrate that he would file a fresh list of the addresses of the various foreign-based sites for the serving of the summons through the MEA.

During the hearing, senior counsel Siddharth Luthra, representing Facebook India, sought adjournment for the day, saying the matter was pending before the Delhi High Court and the case file was also in the High Court.

Luthra said, "The matter is listed in the High Court for January 16... No order has been passed by the High Court during yesterday's proceedings. Since the record (case file) is not here, we are seeking adjournment for today only".

He said that one of the accused, who is chairman of the Facebook, is based in California in the US and the court would have to direct the MEA for serving summons on him.

The counsel for Google India Pvt Ltd also asked the court to adjourn the matter today. He said that summons issued to accused companies Orkut, Youtube and Blogspot have been mistakenly served at their premises in India.

The court, which had earlier directed the Centre to take "immediate appropriate steps" in this regard, was told by the counsel for Ministry of Communication and Information Technology that they would file a report on Friday itself.

The court had on December 23, 2011 issued summons to them against which some of the accused companies had moved the High Court. The summons to the foreign firms had not been served.

The magistrate's December 23 order had come three days after another court in a civil case had restrained these sites including Facebook, Google and Youtube from webcasting any "anti-religious" or "anti-social" content promoting hatred or communal disharmony.

The magistrate had said, "It appears from a bare perusal of the documents that prima facie the accused in connivance with each other and other unknown persons are selling, publicly exhibiting and have put into circulation obscene, lascivious content".

(With additional information from PTI)