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Bombay High Court: orders Google's subsidiary to reveal identity of blogger after posting critical comments

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders secretary general Robert Ménard has written to Google CEO Eric Schmidt and one of Google's founders, Sergey Brin, about a defamation lawsuit that the Indian construction company Gremach brought against Google's Indian subsidiary, Google India Private Ltd, in February 2008.

As a result of the action, a Bombay high court ordered Google's subsidiary on 15 August to reveal the identity of a blogger who used the pseudonym "Toxic Writer" to post comment's criticising Gremach on Google's blog platform, http://www.Blogger.com .

Indian law governing the use of personal data makes no provision for the parties concerned to oppose disclosure. As far as the Indian authorities are concerned, Google India Private Ltd is subject to local law and must name the person who posted the disputed content.

"Under the Indian law concerning cyber-crime, IT Act 2000, a company is presumed responsible for the content posted on the websites it hosts unless it can demonstrate its innocence. Google has just two options - either prove that its local subsidiary was not aware of the offending content at the time it was posted, or that it was posted in violation of the warnings it had issued," Reporters Without Borders said. "We urge Google's executives not to comply with the local law and to appeal against the court's decision."

Ménard's letter, dated 21 August, refers to the precedent of Chinese journalist Shi Tao and the US company Yahoo!, whose compliance with a Chinese government request in 2005 to identify one of its clients resulted in Shi being sentenced to 10 years in prison.

"You must be aware of the ensuing public relations disaster for Yahoo! and the apology that your counterpart and rival, Jerry Yang, had to give to the US Congress after it held him responsible for his client's imprisonment," the letter says. "Seize the opportunity you are being given to demonstrate transparency by defying the Indian court's request in the name of the international standards that protect free expression."

Ménard points out that the Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA) proposed by US representative Christopher Smith would protect US companies operating in foreign countries with authoritarian governments that could ask them to reveal their clients' personal data. "The GOFA would require all such requests to be submitted to the US government, thereby extricating them from a delicate situation."

Ménard adds: "We remind you that article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, says: 'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers'."

Read the letter: http://www.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/080821._Letter_to_E._Schmidt.pdf

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