3-4 days back, when it became apparent that the Govt of India had once again asked India's 153 ISPs to block some internet sites, I had thought that I will start this post with a quote often attributed to Voltaire:
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Unfortunately, I found soon that quoting Voltaire in this situation will be an anticlimax.
I realised that one was up against, not a conspiracy against freedom of speech/information, but plain ignorance and stupidity!!!
But before we go to other things, a basic question:
Can the GOI Legitimately Block Certain Websites?
Apparently, it can.... through a chain of developments that unfolded over last 6 years:
Which, at the face of it, is fair enough. All countries that provide for freedom of speech also have laws to temper the freedom within limits - in the freest of countries one can't use "free speech" to put national security at stake, indulge in personal slander, or publicly incite people to murder (unless you happen to be Pat Robertson calling for assassination of the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, or people of that ilk;0), etc.
That same year in Sept 2003, CERT-In had used its prerogative, and asked the ISPs to block a yahoogroup, Kynhun, a Meghalaya-based group consisting of around 20 members (it was described as a "separatist movement"). Its sole "anti-national" activity was to bring out a newsletter "The Voice", which voiced its opinions on issues like mining in ecologically sensitive areas, or transfer of a government hosital to a trust owned by the present Chief Minister, etc...
Since the ISPs could not block one single yahoogroups, the entire yahoogroups site was off-access for about 2 weeks, when access and sanity got restored.
... Quite clearly, CERT-In did not learn from its blunder, and so, we have another similar blanket blocking. Accordingg to reports, the GOI wanted to block 18-20 websites, but in one massive sweep, blogspot.com, typepad.com and geocities.com are off the net in India.
So What Does/Did CERT-In Want To Ban/Block?
I mean, which were these "websites promoting hate content, slander or defamation of others, promoting gambling, promoting racism, violence and terrorism and other such material, in addition to promoting pornography, including child pornography and violent sex"?
Since the GOI's order is a hush-hush affair, the following partial list is compiled from news reports from media reports, e.g., The Financial Express, BBC, The Hindu, etc.
It was fun - and insightful - going through these sites/blogs (if in India, use any of the proxy servers, listed later in the post, to visit these)...
If this list is in any way indicative of the threats CERT-In takes seriously and responds to, then we sure have a huge problem in this country - not so much from violence and hatred, but from plain and simple stupidity...
Across the various reports, there was some mix up about commonsense.blospot.com and commonfolks.blogspot.com, so I tried the combinations:
Like with commonsense/commonfolks, for princesskimberley as well, I tried the following variations:
Rahul is clearly not very amused about being blocked: "The government of India has blocked my website for some unknown reason. I am guessing that it may have been due to the links to various political groups in the Links section of my website. These groups are the main opposition to the current Congress Party government. For this reason, I believe I am being blocked. India has no right to claim the title "world's largest democracy" if they are going to tell people what they can and can't view on the internet..."
[Note: this adds to one more of my reasons why we live in a crazy world...]
...and, therefore, Thank You, GOI, CERT-In!...
UPDATE (July 21, 2006):
Some friend sent me the scanned copy of the Ministry circular asking the ISPs to block the websites.
It is also likely that the blanket blocking may be lifted in a couple of days. But the censoring of these selected websites/blogs will continue!!!
However, it is still far from clear what security threats these websites pose to the country... and who decides, on what basis, that a certain website should be banned?