India Blocks Sites

By: derek on 21 July 2006
Posted in India, Asia

Indian ISPs are as of July 13 blocking several Web sites, including Blogspot, Typepad, and Geocities. Several reports by bloggers seem to confirm that it is India's Department of Telecommunications (DOT) that has requested Indian ISPs to filter the sites. Slashdot and Boingboing have picked up this story as well.

A list of websites to block has been provided to the ISPs but the list itself has not been made public. Several bloggers have started asking people to file a Right to Information (RTI) requesting the government to release the list of blocked websites. Not satisfied with the intransparent situation, bloggers have been organizing themselves and keeping track of which ISP blocks which websites.

For several days there was a general lack of further official explanation and justification for these censorship practices. As of July 19, the Deputy Consul General has come forward with a clarification, stating that:

A two-page write up containing extremely derogatory references to Islam and the holy prophet which had the potential to inflame religious sensitivities in India and create serious law and order problems in the country appeared in a blog facilitated by well known search engines. The matter was immediately taken note of by our CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) and the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) was informed of it. The DOT took up the matter forthwith with the search engines and instructions were also issued to all Internet providers to block the two impertinent pages. Because of a technological error, the Internet providers went beyond what was expected of them which in turn resulted in the unfortunate blocking of all blogs. Department of Telecommunications have now clarified the issue and the error is being rectified and it is expected that normalcy in respect of blogs will soon be restored.

There have been recent signs that the blanket filtering are slowly being lifted by some ISPs.

In the meantime, concerned bloggers have been communicating and organizing themselves using Google Groups as well as a wiki that aggregates information, including information on how to bypass the block.

This not the first time India has practiced Internet censorship. For example, in 2003 the state closed down a Yahoo Group, called Kyhun, that was run by a banned militant outfit, the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) of the Khasi tribe in Meghalaya. See the Opennet Initiative report for more detail on previous Indian Internet filtering practices.

Thanks to ONI summer researcher Lokman Tsui for this post!