NEW DELHI: India will seek US’ help in tracking down the origins of offensive web pages hosted on American servers which have been used to inflame Muslim sentiments here.
The decision to seek the help of US’ Department of Homeland Security and other agencies comes after the initial investigations by intermediaries like Google and Facebook pointed to Pakistan being the main source for the offensive images, videos and hate SMSs.
Government said on Monday that the social networking sites have expressed inability to take action against up-loaders of the offensive content on grounds that they were outside the jurisdiction of India.
Government is not satisfied with the response. In a statement it called for “more and quicker action to address such a sensitive issue which concerns restoring peace, harmony, public order and national security, setting the stage for another round of tough negotiations between the government and intermediaries over how to regulate the content on Internet.”
Even as the escape of Indians from the northeast slowed on Monday, the fear of a backlash and simmering communal tension alerted the government to the destructive power of internet-fuelled rumour as part of an organized destabilization effort. Images of disparate events — from street unrest in Bangkok to protests by Buddhist monks in Myanmar and destruction by an earthquake in China — were morphed and circulated to create an impression of Muslims under attack from people of a particular race. It became the catalyst of threats for people from the north-east, leading to a huge exodus.
An angry government blocked another 89 web pages on Monday, (taking the total of blocked web pages to almost 250), and started gathering evidence to confront Pakistan with. Responding to Pakistan’s denial, Union home secretary R K Singh promised to provide clinching evidence. “Some photographs have names of one or two organisations (of Pakistan),” he said.
Information and technology (IT) department also quoted intermediaries and international social networking sites to assert “the initial response from international social networking sites indicates that such content have been hosted from outside the country and to a large extent from a neighbouring country (Pakistan).”
The matter was expected to figure in Parliament on Tuesday, with home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and IT minister Kapil Sibal expected to share the findings about the new form of subversion.
Foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai briefed foreign minister S M Krishna on Monday about the developments. The foreign ministry was looking at summoning Pakistani high commissioner to India, Salman Bashir, and presenting him with the evidence, but the home ministry is yet to share any technical data with the MEA.
“There is nothing much in terms of evidence that we can take up with the Pakistanis as yet and so we will wait. In the meantime, foreign secretary will meet the home secretary to find out more details which will allow the MEA to take up the issue diplomatically,” said an official.
While the government can monitor and intercept and even block offensive web content under Sections 69 and 69A of the IT Act, the 2011 Intermediary Guidelines enjoin companies like Google and Facebook to comply with requests and grievances within 36 hours. Both companies, say government officials, take unnecessarily long to comply with the norms. Government officials said some of the intermediaries have said that they may not be able to take action against the offensive websites because they were hosted outside India.
However, while India can act against cyber-terrorists within its soil, New Delhi cannot actually extradite someone from a different country. Besides, India is yet to sign the Council of Europe’s draft guidelines on cyber security, which makes this an extraditable crime.
Disappointed by the response of international social networking sites, government has decided to hold another meeting with them. Telecom minister Kapil Sibal told TOI, “We will hold a dialogue with Facebook, Google and others to seek their cooperation to prevent a recurrence”. The minister said that one-off solutions will not work. “There has to be an institutional mechanism to deal with situations that can affect lives of millions. No country can afford this. Solutions have to be found, must be found. We expect the cooperation of all the stakeholders,” he said.
A Google spokesperson said: “We comply with valid legal requests from authorities wherever possible”. She added, “Content intended to incite violence is prohibited on You Tube and we act quickly to remove such material flagged by our users.”
Sources in the security establishment say that uploading of doctored videos of lower Assam violence by radical organizations in Pakistan is not just directed against India but is also for internal consumption there.
“It helps them gain political ground, get funds, radicalise more Pakistani youth and recruit people in terror groups. They had similarly uploaded morphed pictures and doctored videos of killings of Muslims in Myanmar to incite passions in their own country,” said an official in the know of developments in Pakistan. Organizations such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Jamat-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam are at the forefront of such propaganda in Pakistan because of their wide network.
An intelligence official said, right after the Rohingya Muslim clashed with Buddhists in Myanmar that claimed 78 lives, radical organizations in Pakistan held rallies claiming thousands of Muslims having been killed in Myanmar. Some even put the figure at 20,000.
Pictures and videos of the 2010 China earthquake with Buddhist monks in their robes standing among dead bodies (helping in rescue work) were uploaded as “Bodies of Muslims killed by Buddhists”.
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