The United States has dealt a direct blow to the attempt by Indian authorities to curtail freedom of expression by seeking to block web sites carrying 'offensive content'.
The government was reduced to telling a Delhi court on Friday that the US authorities were unable to ''execute'' the request for assistance in serving summons on 11 US-based web sites, including Facebook, Orkut, YouTube, Yahoo, Blogspot, Google and Microsoft.
India has accused these sites of hosting objectionable content that promotes class enmity and undermines national integrity.
The ministry of home affairs told metropolitan magistrate Jay Thareja that it had received a communication dated 20 March from the US Department of Justice, which said it could not help.
The US notice was blunt: ''Pursuant to the treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters between the United States and India, we regret to inform you that we will not be able to execute this request for assistance, as the request implicates free speech principles that are protected by the US Constitution and are considered essential interests,'' it said.
The court had, on 8 January, issued fresh summonses to the websites, which had been arraigned in a complaint filed by government attorney Vinay Rai.
The court has fixed the next hearing for 21 May.
The US authorities have also informed the ministry that they will not be able to assist with the execution of the request without additional information.
"As you know, there are limits to our Constitution's protections on free speech, such as when the speech comprises a true threat or incites imminent violence. In this case, there has not been a sufficient showing in this regard.
"If there are other facts pertaining to this matter that have not been included in this request, eg, information indicating an endangerment or threat to Indian lives, we will gladly consider them," it said.
The letter added on a diplomatic note, "Although we are not in a position to provide the evidence sought in this matter, the strong bilateral relationship we enjoy bodes well for the successful execution of other requests."
Other requests include curbs on those web sites selling obscene materials to the youth or hatching criminal conspiracy.
The government had earlier told the court that there was sufficient material to proceed against the web sites for the alleged offences.
The government's ham-handed effort to extend its disgusting 'objectionable content' law overseas has thus come a cropper.
The government had early this year flatly refused to comply with a Supreme Court diktat that this law must be properly codified to prevent its blatant misuse by central and state governments to harass citizens exercising their fundamental rights.