Tuesday, July 18, 2006

She says we've gotta/ Hold on/ To what we've got.

All of yesterday, I blamed my lack of Blogspot access on my IT department. Assumed it was some crackdown on visits to non-work-related sites, notably pornography. And started composing (mentally, of course) a viciously polite email that would touch upon the importance of the freedom of expression, the internet as a medium for exchange of information/ ideas/ opinion, and blogs as a measure/indicator of 'buzz'. Fortunately, I was too snowed under with work to actually send off this missive.

This morning, I read the front page of the Economic Times and reeled. Apparently, I have DoT to thank for blocking access to my very own blogs -- blogs, whose only claim/ link to terror could be bad writing. Read on.

Terror Trail: Govt blanks out select blogs

A week on, echoes of the serial blasts in Mumbai are being felt on the Net. In a hard hit at terrorists who blasted the life of some 180 Mumbaikars, the government — the ground beneath its feet shaking for its lackadaisical response to the carnage — has dealt a big blow. It has ordered the DoT to block blogs across the country. Cyberia, too, has been ripped apart indirectly by terrorists, most of who are incredibly tech-savvy and flash latest gadgets at the drop of a bomb.

DoT has sent a notice to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block around 17-18 websites. The department usually sends such notices of censorship only when it finds objectionable anti-national content or anything against public interest. But the government, going full blast in its zeal to do something to quell rising anger, has goofed big time by proscribing the MumbaiHelp blogspot, which acted as a lifeline after the blasts, giving information about critical numbers to contact and details about the dead and injured.

To compound the absurdity, it is still possible to get onto this site by logging on to
www.pkblogs.com, 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!

Lest Cyberia turn into Siberia, the online community is already up in arms against the new move. Experts believe that the government’s sudden move is aimed at thwarting the use of blogs and websites by terrorists and their supporters. Blogspot, a Google-owned site, is among those blocked.

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 which 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? It would probably be simpler for them to close the entire Internet business and then only allow select sites the way China is doing,” he said. Is this really the way India wants to go?

Domains also blocked to keep out blogs

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 on Tuesday.

The DoT sent the notice to all ISPs on Friday, and some of the ISPs have started blocking websites. Some websites were reported to be inaccessible. The process followed for blocking is as follows: The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) reports on the presence of websites or content which is anti-national or against public interest to the DoT. The latter then issues a notice to all ISPs, more than 100 across India, to block these websites.

Over the past six years, the DoT has blocked over 100 websites. Generally, a DoT notice has one or two names of websites to be blocked. This time, the notice had more than 17 names. The online community has started debating and criticising the decision. The online community also claims that some ISPs have blocked Blogspot. If the domain name is blocked by the ISPs, none of the websites on that domain can be accessed. Sources say, sometimes when the government gives a particular website or URL address to be blocked, it cannot be done unless the domain name is blocked. Consequently, ISPs have blocked access to all sites hosted by a provider.

Many of the ISPs could not be contacted for comment on the issue. Sify officials vehemently denied receiving any notice from DoT to block any site. They also denied that they have blocked any sites. Sources say the rationale for blocking these websites and blogs is to prevent foreign terrorists from communicating with the cells networks in India.

Sure, like anyone who has lived in Bombay for nearly thirty years, I've blogged about the blasts. Exchanged comments with friends and anonymous visitors. Returned visits. Checked out the points of view of many of my favourite bloggers. Dropped by the Mumbai Help site, and provided a link to it. Ditto for the CNN-IBN Light a Candle effort.

And I'm crushed that the government of the world's largest democracy sees fit to block access (paid internet access, that is) to blogs of my choice. It places India squarely among the likes of Pakistan and China. (Think I'm exaggerating? Log onto www.pkblogs.com Hell, if you're reading this, you probably have already.)

Other people have written about this, and written brilliantly. (Check this, and this, and -- my personal favourite -- this.) After all, it's no coincidence that bloggers across the country are continuing to do what they have always done -- sharing information, taking a stand, protesting, commenting, emailing, ...

And keeping the faith.

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