If this is not censorship…

DoT (Department of Telecommunications) has a press release out.

The Department of Telecom (DoT) has instructed all the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country to block only the specified website/webpages on the parent website. … As such the DoT has now directed all the ISPs to strictly comply with the order dated 13th July 2006 and provide unhindered access to Internet except for the websites/webpages which have been specifically mentioned in its orders issued from time to time.

The DoT has further sought explanation from the erring ISPs as to why action be not taken against them for blocking unintended websites/webpages.

Before I laugh, let me point you to the parts that amuse me right now. Anyone who says that this is not a matter of cyber-censorship is clearly missing the point that the DoT thinks they have the right to block any website online. And apparently these orders go out from time to time. (Here’s to those who said this has never happened before.) Blocking one page maybe like taking away a drop from the ocean. However, regardless of how much water you took away – it is the act of taking away that is in question.

Second bit of amusement. Notice the last sentence. How beautifully it all now collapses on the ISPs’ shoulders. Not a word about the government on why they think they can block a website. It’s almost like they brushed off any query about rights of citizens.

Now. Go laugh.

After you finish laughing at the futility of all this – we’ll sit down to remind ourselves that somebody sitting in the Government office has decided on your behalf that you are not capable of digesting some content online. I might wake up tomorrow and find just my blog blocked. I share my server with perhaps seventeen other websites. Some of you may notice tomorrow that you get strange errors on my page. You’ll come once, twice and maybe even an odd third time when you google for something. You’ll get irritated and never come again. I won’t have an army of bloggers to defend my rights then. Even suppose you are inordinately fond of reading me – you won’t find anyone to support your right to read. You may never realize that the blog is blocked because the government doesn’t even find it fit to tell you what is blocked. And let’s face it – one piddly little navel gazing blog isn’t going to make someone fish for a copy of a government note and fax it to anyone.

In the end – a drop will go missing from the ocean. Somebody somewhere will tsk away and say something about how it’s not censorship – just the state’s good intentions.

Very sobering.

PS – This post has nothing to do with blogs. Or even democracy. Now read.

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0 Responses to If this is not censorship…

  1. Nilu says:

    If you want to begin questioning, begin at the beginning. Take it to its logical conclusion. Else, well, you know what.

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  2. kalyan says:

    govt decision to ban on blogs is a big blow to lovers of democracy like us (freelance writers ) than on anti social elements . Blogs are not only the media using anti social elements , they are mostly depending upon emails .

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  3. km says:

    Too bad for the government they picked an articulate (and visible) section of the population to practice their Dark Arts. Now they can go back to censoring the poor and the uneducated.

    (Great post, Neha. The penultimate paragraph is a real keeper.)

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  4. Pingback: …My heart’s in Accra » Disagreements and thoughts over India’s blog block

  5. Falstaff says:

    Neha: Excellent post. The point about not knowing if a site has been blocked is a good one – just as worrying, I’m not sure there would be any way for you to prove that your blog had been blocked at all. The government could simply deny that such a block was in place – and since the only documentation of it is a confidential letter exchanged between the government and the ISP you’d never be able to prove any different.

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  6. OMG says:

    Not to discourage you but you seem to speak like you can bring down the govt on its knees by the collective force of bloggers if it ever brings a blanket ban another time. It just so happened that the govt really was not gunning for all the blogs this time. So it was easy to convince them to unblock. Next time, when they do it intentionally, there’s no stopping them. For all those running the govt and those in the opposition, bloggers represent a miniscule vote bank that they wouldn’t even feel it’s worth their time talking to you. Nothing could give them a better political mileage than showing off that they care for the national security. Should they ever see a revolt, they could set up a fake blog with a faked connection to any of the terrorist organisation and convince the larger proportion of the (voting) public that their action is justified.

    Some of the bloggers are thinking about filing a PIL in Supreme Court. The Court can ask the govt to unblock only the sites presented to it for examination and
    cannot pass a generic order to completely prevent the govt from censoring sites. Even worse, if the PIL is dismissed for some reason it will only embolden them to be even more aggressive.

    What we need to put an end to this problem is the support of a bigger organisation, perhaps the one we create by ourselves. We should think beyond the bloggers collective and create a body with a larger scope – The Internet Users of India. 50 Million members do the talking better than a small cricle of bloggers and should keep the ISPs more responsible.

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  8. Anon says:

    Every right comes with responsibility and blogs and bloggers need to be responsible not to spew hate ideologies harmfully misrepresenting a country before writing speeches about rights. If you indulge in similar activities and find your blog banned or disappearing in the Indian ocean one fine day, you should truly not be very surprised. But relax, the GoI is not that tech savvy yet and your blog hasn’t yet assumed any of the characteristics that makes it ban worthy.

    Not many moons ago, bloggers were targetted by hate blogs akin the Hawk before it was taken out amid vigourous protests by the blogger community. It was an opinion after all no matter however despicable and distorted, so going by your line of reasoning , censorship there was totally uncalled for. Though its a very minor deal compared to what GoI is trying to curtail, I would think it would not be very hard for you to understand the GoI’s concern with fundamentalist hate blogs.

    What is it that you find so amusing and laughable with the GoI’s statement that did not bring out your sense of humour with the Hawk? And please dont hunt for conspiracy theories where there are none.

    Anon.

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  9. Nilu: Hain?

    Kalyan: What antisocial elements depend on is irrelevant.

    km: Hhmm. Keep that in mind next time you try Dark Arts around here!

    Falstaff: Yes. It is worrying. Bans on books and movies are public information. Why isn’t such a list published for websites?

    OMG: Take a deep breath. Read the post again. Now, where do you disagree? I understand that you are dying to make a point that you think is important – but please understand that unless you can refer to the context – the point is lost. Please note the use of the word “futility” in the post. Last I heard – It didn’t refer to backbreaking revolutions. My point was that this was hardly a fight. Seriously – Read the post.

    Anon – For God’s sake T.D – Why do you have to become Anon when you disagree with me? It’s not like I am going to hunt you down. You have a right to your anonymity though – and I have right to tell you to be more careful to mask your anonymity – use a proxifier next time.

    Same advice. Deep Breath. Read Post Again. Note the word “navel gazing”. If a blog somewhere in some corner of the world is enough to make people more fundamentalist – then we have more to worry about than just blogs. Besides – like I said (Read Post Again) – this post is very little to do with blogs.

    Now – when I said I didn’t like the Hawk – I didn’t go whining to Google and say “Take that blog off!” I didn’t say “He has no right to say that.” I felt sorry for The Hawk. Really sorry. My liking or not disliking something has nothing to do with censorship. Likes and dislikes are subjective. So is censorship. I was not concerned either. If you scroll back to that post – I was amused. I linked to it. I found it funny.

    I can hunt for anything I like. What I can’t do is kill something – without taking away its right.

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  10. megha says:

    Sorry neha, but I have to do this.

    ROFL @ OMG’s comment!

    hahahahaha!

    *composes herself*

    Right. I’m done.

    Like

  11. Anon says:

    May I ask you this, Who is TD? Looks like a case of mistaken Identity.
    Word of advice: Don’t rely too much on IP addresses and organization names to track people and comments, because often there is a proxy involved and it may be quite misleading. But you should know, after all it doesn’t take anything more than a simple proxy to circumvent the blog ban, does it? And though you may not believe it, even so I had to write this part, so that you don’t misplace the responsibility of my anon comments on the suspect TD.

    Now coming back to your comment, when I quoted the Hawk, it was a miniscule sample of the deleterious effects of spiteful and misleading blogs, something you say you are saddened by. You may not whine about it to google because there is no threat bodily or otherwise caused by the opinions. It is by no means a comparison in scale of the effect and consequences of propaganda spouted by blogs banned by GoI. What harm they can cause cannot be imagined by normal, ordinary people, so lets not argue about the effects yet, though they are there for all to see. Also note it is not a pecautionary measure but a reactionary one.

    And one can talk about rights without being accountable or exercising civic responsibility, terrorism cannot be a case to plead for here.

    Anon.

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  12. Nilu says:

    Neha,
    May I please borrow this funny anon? I promise, just for a week or so.

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  13. vidya says:

    Censorship is one thing.But why such a Cheneyesque delay in giving out a press release and a lack of transparency with the ‘we don’t know what’s going on effect’ confounding the minds of the public is yet another.

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  14. Censorship of any kind is bad. I’ve mentioned a workaround for this ban problem using a simple JAVA software called your-freedom. Here’s the link; http://toufeeq.blogspot.com/2006/07/banspot.html

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  15. mrajshekhar says:

    hey neha,
    absolutely. a similar discussion is underway at dilip d souza’s blog (dcubed.blogspot.com). what is needed, methinks, is another rti petition to discover how many blogs have been blocked by the powers that be till now. also, what are the odds that the govt might have institutionalised a special cell for cracking down on all sites mocking the cong and sonia gandhi. would not be surprised. πŸ˜‰
    cheers, and great job on all this.
    shekhar

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  16. Falstaff says:

    Anon: “What harm they can cause cannot be imagined by normal, ordinary people”. You know what, you’re right. I can’t begin to compare the scale of the effect and consequences of the ‘propaganda’ spouted by sites like princesskimberly.blogspot.com to acts of actual violence.

    Oh, and yes we can’t even begin to evaluate the harmful consequences, if any, of this ‘propaganda’ because we don’t know what sites the government is blocking. Therefore the only thing we can do is imagine what harm they might have caused and some of us have very little imagination when it comes to believing in monsters under the bed or bogeymen websites that spread hatred. It would be nice if we didn’t have to imagine. It would be nice if normal, ordinary people could see for themselves, rather than having to blindly trust the judgement of the folks at CERT-IN who, clearly, are extraordinary and superhuman.

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  17. Pingback: fractured.earth / a short, crisp note written to convey pure contempt

  18. Pingback: Rohan Pinto » Indian Web Censorship INTACT

  19. Nilu says:

    Vidya,
    I read chenyesque as chebyshevesque…….ROTFL!

    Started wondering if the GoI babus had a polynomial to delay their response. Seri stop pethal.

    Like

  20. A-ha! No wonder the traffic on my space is on the decline…the govt doesn’t want anyone to learn how to make marmalade!!

    Great post…much as I’d like to defend the govt, it seems like a lost cause in this case. In the end, I guess, it boils down to the belief that one’s right to freedom of speech is greater than the other’s. Which, needless to add, is indefensible. Or, at least, should be.

    (Over from KM’s)

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  21. Kaushik says:

    Agree with you that censorship is a bad thing, but minor quibbles about whose fault it is that censorship happens in India.

    “Not a word about the government on why they think they can block a website. It’s almost like they brushed off any query about rights of citizens.”

    The government can block a website because our parliament, in all it’s wisdom, passed a law in 2000 allowing the government to block offensive content.

    Is this a bad law? Yes.

    Should it be modified? Yes.

    Is it a government official’s job to determine if a law is good before implementing it? No.

    If the sarkari babus had just blocked the 17 sites, they would have just been doing their jobs. Our parliament didn’t merely allow them to censor offensive content, it asked them to.

    I think it’s the parliament’s fault that parliament’s fault that it passed a bad law/ law without adequate safegaurds and it’s our fault that we didn’t fight it hard enough till it blew up on our faces.

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  22. Anon says:

    Falstaff: You are right , it really needs very little imagination, because there is precedence in such matters to draw from. We have had a history of communal violence which has progressively deteriorated with incited propaganda. Perhaps you wish to say free speeches dont affect normal men, but we all saw such normal people turn “bogeymen” during gujrat and bombay times. Of course there was no internet in those times, the object here is controlling media with misleading facts, in its new avataar the aforesaid blogs.

    Censorship is a pretty pretty tricky issue. There are no laws or a structure for it to be fairly implemented and that still needs to be figured out. If you are arguing about random, unexplained censorship, I would be with you on that, but in troubled times, any content that would be harmful or encouraged more violance needs to be definitely monitored.

    Also though this is more to do with privacy and not censorship, and its carrier dependant, many countries record every cell conversation on their servers by law. Location based services, emergency calls etc are possible only by tracking a person constantly. So there is no such thing as complete freedom anyway.

    Anon.

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  23. Pradeep Nair says:

    This blog gag is one of the most bizarre attempts at suppression. I am one who believes that ban doesn’t kill anything, only drives it underground. I think this gag order has just achieved the opposite; people are merrily visiting the offensive sites; and these sites have got the widest possible publicity.

    Instead, as I noted in my blog post, the government should have, using its technological and human resources, kept random checks on sites, tracked down whoever is violating the law and acted according to the Cyber Laws that we have very much in place.

    With conflicting reports on whether the block is on or off, there is utter confusion on this issue. Just shows the state of our governance.

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  24. Censorship is an infringement on a person’s freedom. When I say freedom I mean freedom of expression as well as the freedom to access any information.

    In that sense, censorship is definitely bad. Because it gives government bodies the authority to decide – mostly arbitrarily – what its citizens can or cannot see. Whether it be the banning of the Da Vinci Code, blocking websites, or forcing a movie director to cut scenes from a movie.

    But then I’m in the habit of playing Devil’s advocate inside my head, and all this talk about censorship has got me thinking.

    During the Babri Masjid/riots thing, Bal Thackeray was said to be “personally responsible, not only for inciting the mobs through his incendiary speeches, but also directly coordinating the movement of the rioters” (source: Wikipaedia). So, of course he was actively involved in the violence.

    But let us imagine, that he hadn’t actually done that. Let’s say he had made public speeches to the effect of – “Muslims have no right to live in India. Ask them to leave.” Let’s say that this caused someone else to actually plan and coordinate the rioteering.

    Let’s say Thackeray was not living in India, but was just as popular inspite of that. Let’s say his speeches/articles recommending violence against Muslims, were printed in Indian newspapers, and read by someone who took up the rioteering in his name.

    If at such a time the government banned “articles of an incendiary nature”, or “content that may incite unrest”, would that be okay?

    Somehow, I am uncomfortable with the idea of not allowing censorship in such a case, if tensions are actually very high.

    And yet, allowing censorship in such an extreme means allowing censorship under all conditions. Who gets to decide when tensions are high? Who gets to decide what content is safe?

    While I don’t agree with Anon’s argument as a whole, I must agree with his/her statement that censorship is a tricky issue.

    No sane person wants to see riots happening around them. We wish the government and the police would do all they can to control conditions to make sure they don’t. Isn’t prevention better than cure? And yet, how can you prevent something like rioting, without enforcing censorship of content that leads to rioting?

    And how can you implement censorship without trampling on someone’s rights?

    Every bit of me knows that censorship is wrong. And yet, I can’t counter this particular argument.

    Your thoughts?

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  25. Falstaff says:

    Rajesh: My two bit’s worth.

    1. “how can you prevent something like rioting, without enforcing censorship of content that leads to rioting?”

    By creating a credible threat of punishment after the rioting. If we really want to stop riots in the country we need the political will to ensure that those who instigate or participate in riots get severely punished. As long as rioters continue to get away with it, no amount of censorship is going to help.

    I think we often end up taking the prevention vs. cure analogy too far. “Prevention is better than cure” makes sense where we’re talking about diseases because the probability of disease is independent of the efficacy of the cure. That’s not true of human action, however. With something like riots, greater certainty of punishment means lower probability of occurence. Cure is prevention.

    2. In the hypothetical example you cite, I would say the person to go after is the someone who takes up rioteering in his name. Not this fictional Thackeray of yours. We can’t go around banning anything and everything that could be used to incite violence. Because almost anything can be twisted and used for that purpose. I could, for instance, take the bit about Thackeray from your comment and use it as the basis to launch an attack against Thackeray. But that would hardly be your fault. If you really wanted to ban everything that could be used to stir up communal feelings, you’d have to start by banning all religious texts. And I’d love to see the government that would have the guts to try that.

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  26. Nilu says:

    Rajesh,

    If you are indeed the devil’s advocate, is it also some kinda rule that you should be illogical? Is this like the bizzaro superman thing?

    But if the opposite of logic is illogic, isn’t the opposite of good, bad? Therefore should you not be bad at being illogical and hence be logical? Something wrong somewhere….

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  27. Falstaff: Somehow I don’t think the fear of punishment is the right way to deal with rioting. Riots are an act of rage. We live in a country full of angry people. Specially those in the 22-35 age group. Do you think that a guy caught in the middle of a mob-like situation with anything resembling a weapon in his hand is going to care much about punishment?

    Riots happen as a release to levels of rage that build up. Rage that is fuelled over time by a lot of things. I don’t think censorship is the answer. But neither is “punishment”. This isn’t one murder that you want to punish. This isn’t one act of vandalism. Or one theft. It’s a mob. And mobs don’t listen to reason.

    My question is, if the government’s approach to the solution isn’t the right one, then we must suggest a viable alternative.

    Nilu: I know I’m being illogical. What I’m unable to point out is, What is illogical in my argument? I don’t believe it, but I don’t know how to argue against it either. It’s what a lot of people believe, or they wouldn’t support censorship of “some content”. My question is, exactly where are they wrong, and what is the alternate solution?

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  28. Falstaff says:

    Rajesh: Notice that your initial question was based on the assumption that riots, far from being outbursts of spontaneous rage, are actually carefully orchestrated acts incited by power-hungry rabble-rousers. If riots happen purely to release pent-up frustration, then the answer to your original question is easy – there’s no point in banning anything because the riots will happen anyway as long as the frustration exists.

    And I wouldn’t dismiss punishment as a deterrent quite so easily. There are plenty of things that anger us but that we dont’ react to for fear of getting caught. It may not stop riots entirely, but I don’t see any reason to believe that it won’t make a difference.

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  29. twisted dna says:

    Neha,

    I have just been alerted to this thread. I am surprised, astonished, stupefied, mortified, petrified and flabbergasted that you could even think I approve of any kind of censorship. I am a staunch believer in freedom of speech. I made clear of my disgust for banning in my blog: http://next-stop-insanity.blogspot.com/2006/07/harmless-banning.html (with a link back to you, for heaven’s sake).

    Just be clear, that anon is not me. Probably somebody from my company. I hope this will vindicate me from your suprirsing, astonishing, stupifiying, mortifying, petrifiying and flabbergasting accusation πŸ™‚

    TD

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  30. tdna: Sorry! Was dealing with a volley of anon comments – so just wanted to ward some away.

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