India: Google assists police in Orkut user's arrest

With the arrest of Orkut user Rahul Krishnakumar Vaid last weekend, Google has joined Yahoo! on the list of multinational American internet companies that have enabled foreign law enforcement authorities to prosecute netizens in their countries; in this case, the 22 year-old Indian IT worker has been charged under two sections of the Indian Penal Code for posting obscene content online, comments made about political leader Sonia Gandhi, and now faces up to five years in prison.

As tech news website IndiaServer puts it:

This arrest was made because of complaint made by a Congress worker in Pune who had noticed these messages on Orkut recently. The police are now on a lookout for everybody who had posted some obscene content about Sonia Gandhi. However, the person who created the community has not been charged for hating a famous personality or having opinion which is illegal in India.

The law enforcement agency had asked Google, who is the owner of Orkut to provide the details of Vaid and it obliged. Google said that the police authorities had asked for the details of the boy and they gave them the IP address information. Till the time India has some strict laws regarding cyber crimes like the US, it is always better to avoid joining such communities or to join them after paying proper attention to it.

For your average 22 year-old IT worker, though, is simply avoiding sensitive online discussion a practical or even desirable solution? As other Orkut users are now asking, what happened to India's constitution?

As seen in similar cases involving Yahoo!'s operations in China, American ethical standards for corporate behavior don't always apply in other countries. While American law appears to be moving toward making it illegal for domestic companies like Google to enable foreign governments to suppress online speech, as Cyndy Aleo-Carreira reminds us in a post linked to by Global Voices Online editor Neha Viswanathan, these same companies’ overseas operations ultimately have local laws to worry about:

The prevailing mentality in the U.S. is that U.S. laws are the One True Law and the rest of the world should abide by them in some form of global agreement. I'm sure that given the U.S. government's tendency to reinterpret even the U.S. Constitution (Gitmo), there are many countries out there who are more than happy that they aren't subject to the laws of the U.S.

At least Vaid will be given a trial; and as Aleo-Carreira mentions further down in the comments of her post, the role that Indian law has played in his arrest is still what's most relevant:

According to the complaint, the individual in question crossed a similar line as it applies to Indian law. If it was a matter of simply expressing himself, then don’t you think others, including the group’s creator, would also have been charged? There is this quick jump to judgment by Americans over anything “furrin” when our own adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights isn’t exactly stellar at the moment.

The complaint against Vaid goes back to December last year. What remains to be seen is how scrutiny and opposition has been aimed at the IT Act on a local level, particularly regarding the sections used against him, as well as what exactly it was Vaid put online.

For reference, Google defends its filtering of search results in China by saying that its presence alone does more for free speech than if it had no presence in China at all. Following Vaid's arrest, a number of groups have been set up on Orkut and hundreds of comments have been posted weighing heavily in Vaid's support.


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