There is no way we can screen content before it is posted online, argued Internet behemoths Google and Facebook in the Delhi High Court in India's capital on Monday (16 January), reported Indian TV channel NDTV.

Both these Internet companies are among 21 whose executives have been summoned to appear in person in a lower court on March 13 for allegedly hosting obscene and objectionable content. Last week, 12 of the companies involved in this case said they are headquartered internationally.

The legal trouble for companies including Orkut, Yahoo and YouTube started after a Delhi resident Vinay Rai filed a petition in court against obscene depictions of Hindu deities, the Prophet Mohammed and Jesus Christ on the Internet sites. The court then suggested that the executives of these 21 companies be tried for criminal conspiracy.

On Friday, the Indian government gave the green signal to proceed against 21 social networking sites for hosting "objectionable content" promoting enmity between groups and harming national interest, the report said.

According to Indian media reports, this government decision has triggered public anger. Netizens in India said the move was tantamount to clamping down on constitutional rights of free speech and individual liberty. "This censorship is totally useless, the government is trying to curb freedom of speech and expression, which is everyone's right," Kartik Dayanand, a social media consultant and blogger, told IANS.

In its defence, Google said in court that the Indian subsidiary cannot be held responsible for an act by its parent company. But the judge was not impressed with this argument. "Are you not a beneficiary of Google Inc's business? If some illegal activity is being carried out by a tenant and the landlord is a beneficiary, then how can the landlord not know what's happening?" he asked.

According to NDTV, Google's counsel, Neeraj Kishan Kaul argued: "It's easy for people to say you can use filters. If we were to block the word 'sex', for instance, all data on ration cards, passports etc. will get blocked in one go, as the word 'sex' figures in all this data."

According to the report, the company said that as a search engine, it leads surfers to sites they're looking for. "The offending material belongs to the website, controlled by the owner of the website. Google has nothing to do with it," Kaul added.