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Delhi defends Internet blocking

by Prasad Krishna last modified Aug 27, 2012 04:13 AM
India on Friday defended itself against accusations of heavy-handed online censorship, saying it had been successful in blocking content blamed for fuelling ethnic tensions.

Published in Gulf Today on August 25, 2012. Pranesh Prakash is quoted.


The government over the past week has ordered Internet service providers to block 309 webpages, images and links on sites including Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, news channel ABC of Australia and Qatar-based Al Jazeera.

The orders were an effort to halt the spread of “hateful” material and rumours that Muslims planned to attack students and workers who have migrated from the northeast region to live in Bangalore and other southern cities.

“We have met with success. These pages were a threat to India’s national security and we demanded their immediate deletion,” Kuldeep Singh Dhatwalia, a spokesman for India’s home ministry said.

“Spreading rumours to encourage violence or cause tension will not be tolerated. The idea is not to restrict communication.” But Twitter users, legal experts and analysts criticised the government’s approach, which appeared to have resulted in only partial blocking of material, much of which was still accessible.

“The officials who are trusted with this don’t know the law or modern technology well enough,” Pranesh Prakash, programme manager at the Centre for Internet and Society research group, told AFP.

“It is counter-productive. I accuse them of monumental incompetence, given that the main problem is that they are getting really bad advice.

“I hope that this fiasco shows the folly of excessive censorship and encourages the government to make better use of social networks and technology to reach out to people.”

In a strange irony, account of none other than Minister of State for Communication and Information Technology Milind Deora was suspended by Twitter.

But at the same time, a fake account similar to Deora’s remained active.

The followers of Deora on Twitter were in for a surprise when they found a search for his name showed “No people results for Milind Deora.”

Deora’s tweets gave the government’s version on the crackdown on the microblogging site and other social networking websites.

Deora in his tweet on Thursday night had defended the government’s efforts to block hate content on the Internet.

“Ironically, let me clarify on Twitter that there is absolutely no intent of the government to curb freedom of social media platforms,” Deora’s tweet read.

“Account suspended. The profile you are trying to view has been suspended...,” was the automated message that was seen on the Twitter.

The news of Deora’s account suspension spread like wild fire on the microblogging site with some making sarcastic comments.

“Communication Minister Milind Deora’s Twitter Account ‘Suspended.’ It’s like the home minister losing his house key,” read one of the tweets, while another user’s tweet read: “Ah! I know what happened. Milind Deora sent Twitter a list of people to (be) banned and signed his name under it.”

The government has asked Internet service providers to block select 16 Twitter accounts, including that of some journalists.

Twitter has also removed six accounts, which resembled that of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) amid government’s assertion that action would be taken against those allowing objectionable content.

In a communication to the PMO, Twitter has said it has “removed the reported profile(s) from circulation due to violation of our Terms of Service regarding impersonation.”

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