New Delhi: The central government, reeling under fierce criticism of its response to the Mumbai blasts, has struck a blow at the online community by issuing orders to block blogs across the country.
The Department of Telecommunications has sent a notice to Internet service providers (ISPs) to block around 17-18 websites on the Internet. DoT usually sends such notices of censorship only when it finds objectionable, anti-national content or anything against public interest on these websites.
Experts believe that the government’s sudden move is aimed at thwarting the use of blogs (online journals) and websites by terrorists and their supporters. Blogspot, a Google-owned site, is among those blocked by this government measure.
However, among the apparently ‘anti-national’ sites blocked by this policy are those like the MumbaiHelp blogspot, which was a lifeline for people post the Tuesday blasts in Mumbai, giving information about critical numbers to contact and details about the dead and injured.
To compound the absurdity, it’s still possible to get onto this site — but only by logging on through a site set up by Pakistani bloggers to get around the blog ban that their government had put in place after the Danish cartoons episode. In short, thanks to this new policy, a blog to help the victims of a possibly Pakistan-inspired attack can only be accessed through a Pakistani site!
Peter Griffin, one of the founders of the MumbaiHelp blog, points out that the government’s policy is particularly futile, given the explosion of the blog universe. “Apart from free blogs like blogspot, which is what the government seems to be targeting now, there are also private blogs that anyone can put on their site, and the blogs being run by media organisations like CNN and the Guardian. Is the government going to shut them all down? It would probably be simpler for them to decide to close off the whole Internet and then only allow selected sites the way China seems to be doing. Is this really the way India wants to go?”
Deepak Maheshwary, secretary of the Internet Service Provider Association of India (ISPAI) confirmed that most of the ISPs have received the DoT notice and have blocked these websites. He also added that some ISPs have not received the notice, but may get it today, and will also be blocking these websites. He refused to give the names of the blocked sites.
The DoT had sent this notice to all ISPs on Friday, and some of the ISPs have started blocking these websites. While it could not be confirmed from the ISPs whether they have blocked these sites, Internet users were not able to get through to certain websites.
The process followed for blocking is as follows: The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) reports on the presence of websites or content that is anti-national or against public interest to DoT. DoT then issues a notice to all ISPs — more than 100 across the country — to block these websites.
Over the past six years, DoT has blocked more than 100 websites. Generally, a DoT notice has one or two names of websites to be blocked. This time around the notice had more than 17 names.
The online community has already started debating and criticising the government’s decision to block blogs. The online community also claims that some of the ISPs have started blocking the whole domain Blogspot. If the domain name is blocked by the ISPs than none of the websites on that domain can be accessed by subscribers. For instance, if the domain name like Blogspot or Typepad are blocked, then all the blogs on these domains cannot be accessed.
Sources say that sometimes when the government gives a particular website or URL address to be blocked, it cannot be done unless the domain name is blocked. This is why some of the ISPs have blocked access to all websites hosted by one provider.
Many of the ISPs could not be contacted for comment on the issue. When contacted, Sify officials vehemently denied that they had received any notice from DoT to block any site. They also denied that they have blocked any sites. According to sources, the rationale for blocking these websites and blogs is to prevent foreign terrorists from communicating with the cell networks in India.