The websites the government admits to blocking

BY Pranesh Prakash| IN Media Freedom | 08/04/2011
The Centre for Internet and Society and Medianama did an RTI and obtained some replies from the Department of Information Technology on which websites the government blocked.
PRANESH PRAKASH of CIS analyzes the implications of these blocks. Pix: Minister of State for Communications Sachin Pilot. Under his watch?
Reprinted from the Centre for Internet & Society website
DIT's Response to RTI on Website Blocking
For the first time in India, we have a list of websites that are blocked in India. This data was received from the Department of Information Technology in response to an RTI that CIS filed. Pranesh Prakash of CIS analyzes the implications of these blocks, as well as the shortcomings of the DIT's response.
Quick Analysis of DIT's Response to the RTI
Blocked websites
The eleven websites that the DIT acknowledges are blocked in India are:
  1. http://www.zone-h.org
  2. http://donotdial100.webs.com
  3. http://www.bloggernews.net/124029 [accessible from Tata DSL, but not from others like Reliance Broadband and BSNL Broadband]
  4. http://www.google.co.in/#h1=en&source=hp&biw=1276&bih=843&
  5. http://www.cinemahd.net/desktop-enhancements/wallpaper/23945-wallpapers-beautiful-girl-wallpaper.html
  6. http://www.chakpak.com/find/images/kamasutra-hindi-movie
  7. http://www.submitlink.khatana.net/2010/09/jennifer-stano-is-engaged-to.html
  8. http://www.result.khatana.net/2010/11/im-no-panty-girl-yana-gupta-wardrobe.html
  9. http://www.facebook.com/pages/l-Hate-Ambedkar/172025102828076
  10. http://www.indybay.org
  11. http://arizona.indymedia.org
 
Of the eleven blocked websites, one was still accessible on a Tata Communications DSL connection.  Two of the blocked websites are grassroots news organizations connected to the Independent Media Centre: IndyBay (San Francisco Bay Area IMC) and the Arizona Indymedia website.  The Bloggernews.net page that is on the blocked list is in fact an article by N. Vijayashankar (Naavi) from March 12, 2010 titled "Is E2 labs right in getting zone-h.org blocked?", criticising the judicial blocking of Zone-H.org by E2 Labs (with E2 Labs being represented by lawyer Pawan Duggal).  The Zone-H.org case is still going through the judicial motions in the District Court of Delhi, but E2 Labs managed to  get an ex parte (i.e., without Zone-H being heard) interim order from the judge asking Designated Officer (Mr. Gulshan Rai of DIT) to block access to Zone-H.org.
 
As has happened in the past, the government (or the court) accidentally ordered the blocking of all of website host webs.com, instead of blocking only http://donotdial100.webs.com (which subdomain apparently hosted 'defamatory' and 'abusive' information about mafia links within the Maharashtra police and political circles).
 
It is interesting to note that for most of the websites on most ISPs one gets a 'request timed out' error while trying to access the blocked websites, and not a sign saying: "site blocked for XYZ reason on request dated DD-MM-YYYY received from the DIT".  On Reliance broadband connections, for some of the above websites an error message appears, which states: "This site has been blocked as per instructions from Department of Telecom".
Judicial blocking
As per the response of the government, all eleven seem to have been blocked on orders received from the judiciary.  While they don't state this directly, this is the conclusion one is led to since the Department admits to blocking eleven websites and also notes that there have been eleven requests for blocking from the judiciary.  Normally the judiciary is often thought of as a check on the executive's penchant for banning (seen especially in the recent book banning cases in Maharashtra, for instance, where the Bombay High Court has overturned most of the government's banning orders).  However, in these cases the ill-informed lower judiciary seem to be manipulated by lawyers to suppress freedom of speech and expression, even going to the extent of blocking grassroots activist news organizations like the Independent Media Centre.
Websites not blocked by DIT
The DIT also notes that the blocks on Typepad.com was not authorized by it (nor, according to the RTI response received by Nikhil Pahwa of Medianama was the Mobango.com block authorised by the DIT).  Typepad.com, Mobango.com, and Clickatell.com don't seem to be blocked currently.  However, as was reported by Medianama, for a while when they were being blocked, some sites and ISPs (such as Typepad.com on Bharti Airtel DSL) showed a message stating that the website was blocked on request from the Department of Telecom, which we don't believe has the authority to order blocking of websites.  While we still await a response from the Department of Telecom to the RTI we filed with them on this topic, in a letter to the Hindu, the Department of Telecom has clarified that it did not order any block on Typepad.com or any of the other websites.  This leaves us unsure as to who ordered these blocks.  Further, it points out a lacuna in our information policy that ISPs can suo motu block websites without justifications (such as violation of terms of use), proper notice to customers, or any kind of repercussions for wrongful blocking.
Insufficient information on Committee for Examination of Requests
All requests for websites blocking (except those directly from the judiciary) must be vetted by the Committee for Examination of Requests (CER) under Rule 8(4) of the Rules under s.69A of the IT Act.  Given that the DIT admits that the Designated Officer (who carries out the blocking) has received 21 requests to date, there should be at least 21 recommendations of the CER.  However, the DIT has not provided us with the details of those 21 requests and the 21 recommendations.  We are filing another RTI to uncover this information.
 
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