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Do no evil indeed

Google authorities admitted Monday to assisting Indian police in their hunt for 22-year-old Rahul Krishnakumar Vaid, an IT professional from Gurgaon, India, who stands accused of constructing vulgar posts against a top Indian politician.

Indian officials said Vaid violated the country’s Information Technology Act of 2000’s obscenity prohibitions when he posted “insulting images” of a Hindu saint to an Orkut community called “I Hate Sonia Gandhi.”

Authorities responded to a complaint from Indian Congress activist Arnol Bhokare, and cyber-crime police from the city of Pune contacted Orkut owner Google for assistance in identifying the poster. That search soon led police to Vaid, resulting in his arrest last Friday.

During police interrogations, Vaid said he was unaware that he would wind up in jail for his postings -- a fact confirmed by his e-mail address, which includes part of his full name: Rahulvaidindia@gmail.com.

The leader for “I Hate Sonia Gandhi” was not arrested, however, because Indian law permits the expression of dislike for government and its officials provided it is done so in a civil, orderly fashion. The law does not protect against expression that includes sacrilege or obscenities, the definition of which is considerably wide due to the country’s conservative government.

Google said that it supports the free expression of its users, but it was forced to disclose Vaid’s identity as part of its policy of compliance with local laws and legal processes.

A search for the community on Orkut reveals that administrators deleted it for violating Orkut’s “community standards.”

Both human rights organizations and the United States Congress are beginning to take note of American companies’ willingness to help foreign governments crack down on dissenters. In February 2007, Republican representative Christopher Smith lambasted Google, Yahoo!, Cisco, and Microsoft in a letter to the Wall Street Journal, where he accused them of assisting the Chinese government in its attempts to identify and punish pro-democracy Chinese nationals. Later in November, Yahoo’s CEO Jerry Yang faced congress in a grueling three-hour session, in which he testified in front of the parents of a Chinese journalist that his company helped arrest.

For the most part, Internet companies say that government compliance – even when that compliance can result in human rights violations – is a necessary evil of doing business in foreign lands, and that developing markets such as China and India are simply too lucrative to ignore or leave to competitors. Short of that, dissenters that live under oppressive governments need to take adequate measure in cloaking their identities, lest they end up targeted by their government. A Yahoo response filed in a San Francisco court last September said cyber dissidents “assumed the risk of harm when they chose to use Yahoo! China email and group list services to engage in activity they knew violated Chinese law.”





"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer













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