Internet users fume as govt blocks 32 sites

by Prasad Krishna last modified Jan 02, 2015 01:46 PM
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has ordered Internet service providers to block 32 websites, in cluding popular video-sharing plat forms such as Dailymotion and Vimeo, reportedly over concerns that they are being misused by Islamic State jihadists.

The article by Jaison Lewis was published in Mumbai Mirror on January 1, 2015. Pranesh Prakash gave his inputs.

The ban has angered free-speech proponents who allege that the Narendra Modi government is using national security as a pretext to censor online content. On Wednesday, tweets criticising the restrictions were trending on #GOIBlocks. Senior lawyer Karuna Nandy said that she would challenge the DoT order in the Supreme Court.

Apart from Dailymotion and Vimeo, Internet service providers have also been ordered to block Github and Pastebin, which are popular among programmers; Weebly, a free website creator; and, a non-profit digital library.

Some Internet users, however, were able to access some of the sites. This could be because their Internet service providers have not yet implemented the DoT order or because the government has lifted restrictions on some web addresses, according to activists monitoring the blockage of the websites.

The order was issued under Section 69A (procedure for blocking public access) of the Information Technology Act, 2000. The section allows authorities to block websites without giving any formal reason or making any public announcement.

However, Arvind Gupta, BJP's national head for information and technology, tweeted that the sites had been blocked over security concerns. "The Web sites have been blocked based on an advisory by Anti-Terrorism Squad, and were carrying Anti India content from ISIS.The sites that have removed objectionable content andor cooperated with the ongoing investigations, are being unblocked," he wrote.

Gupta, however, did not explain how the sites were being misused by terrorists. Some of the sites are mostly frequented by programmers looking for open-source software and codes.

Nandy, a Supreme Court lawyer who specialises in human rights litigations, criticised the ban. "I will challenge the order in the Su preme Court this week. I will seek directions to lift the secrecy surrounding such bans and also request for a right to appeal," she said.

She added that censoring the Internet was against the idea of free expression guaranteed under the Constitution. "Such steps are not good for a healthy society," she said.

Pranesh Prakash, a policy director with the Centre for Internet and Society and one of the most vocal opponents of the blockage, said that the people had the right to know why the websites had been blocked.

"We still don't know why these blocks were issued: was it an overzealous copyright lawyer who found an indulgent judge to issue an overbroad and baseless order? Or was it a public servant who wrongly directed the Department of Electronics and IT to block the sites under the IT Act? We have no idea," said Prakash, who tweeted a picture of the DoT order on Wednesday.

He added that websites were frequently blocked without clear evidence of wrongdoing. "These laws must be changed," Prakash said.

Internet users also voiced their anger over the DoT order. "This only proves ATS is an idiot. If terrorists use buses, phones & Whatspp, you'll block whole system? #GOIBlocks," Poonam Sharma tweeted.

Some users retweeted a Modi post from August 2012: "As a common man, I join the protest against crackdown on freedom of speech!"