INDIFFERENCE TO INTERNET –Apathetic state #censorship


Javed Anwer | June 2, 2012, TOI Crest

 

Two weeks ago, millions of perplexed internet users in India woke up to discover that they had been suddenly cut off from a clutch of very popular file-sharing and video websites. This was ostensibly done to ‘protect copyright’ and involved an Indian film body, a court order and internet service providers (ISPs). Indian cyberspace erupted with indignation. As later reported, there was much that was arbitrary about the action. It also raises some fundamental questions about regulating the internet in India.
In this latest instance, there were also, initially, no clear answers as to who cut off access to these websites? A notice telling users that ‘this website has been blocked as per DoT orders, ‘ appeared first. DoT apparently meant Department of Telecom. After a couple of days the message was changed to ‘the website has been blocked as per a court order. ‘ DoT later clearly denied it had issued any such order. And here lies one part of the problem.

No internet service provider (ISP) bothered to explain which court order, or what the issue at hand was. In fact, Indian ISPs have been blocking and unblocking websites on the basis of broad and rather vague court orders against piracy for a while now. This is clearly problematic, as there appears to be no system or detailed governmental guidelines in place to do such things.

At first glance, it seems logical. A court ordered the blocking of some websites and lawabiding ISPs complied. But it is not so simple. This whole saga is also a sordid tale of how casually the Indian government and ISPs treat the issue of web access in India, perhaps a fundamental right of sorts across the globe now. It also shows the lack of a proper system of wellthought out state oversight over the very firms tasked with connecting Indians to the internet.

In this case, the Madras high court only issued an order against a specific case of piracy. It didn’t order that websites be blocked. CERTIN, the nodal government agency in question, did not issue any directives to ISPs in this case. And the Chennai-based firm that filed the lawsuit later claimed it never asked anyone to block complete websites – only that access to some specific web links on these sites be cut off.

Clearly, ISPs seem to wield arbitrary powers in India, either due to poorly-framed IT rules that were notified last April, or because of the apathy that the concerned ministries seem to display on the matter. ISPs (most of whom are also big telecom companies) behave this way because they neither seem to be accountable to consumers nor to the government, on the vital matter of free and unfettered access to the net (bound by reasonable restrictions, of course) which is what consumers are paying for.

Blocking websites is a serious matter. Done the wrong way, it is tantamount to trampling on free speech. The UN has said that free and open access to the web is a human right. Countries like Finland have even made it a legal right for their citizens. And free speech matters greatly to mature democracies tackling similar issues. Consider how when US legislators were debating their Stop Online Piracy Act, which allowed for something like what ISPs did in India, President Obama threatened to veto the act if it was passed.

No one denies that there are problems with the web. But the solution to these problems does not lie with our ISPs being willing to play trigger-happy cops. The internet is inherently disruptive technology. Copyright piracy, for instance, is a serious issue and must be dealt with carefully. In the digital world it is very difficult to sort issues out in a black and white fashion. That’s the main reason why the same websites blocked in India continue to be available in most other countries, including the US – where the most stringent copyright and anti-piracy laws in the world are enforced.

But in India, state indifference to understanding the internet appears to be the biggest problem. Besides, the government keeps going off on other tangents. For instance, Kapil Sibal, our telecom minister, has been going on about how the web should be regulated. Shouldn’t he be talking about how the web in India can be kept free instead? His ministry, instead of devising ways to monitor social media websites, should be working to create a framework where intermediaries like website owners and ISPs don’t abuse the power they have over users. Instead of worrying about Twitter, shouldn’t the government be working to create institutions and net watchdogs (on the lines of TRAI perhaps) that make sure Indians can access the internet freely?

If websites had been blocked arbitrarily in the West, ISPs would have been sued or penalised by government watchdogs. They would have been hounded by courts for abusing a just order. But not in India – a pity for a country that claims to be among the world’s most vibrant democracies.

Anonymous India Calls for Non-violent Protests Against Censorship


Added 29th May 2012

John Ribeiro

The Indian arm of Anonymous is planning what it describes as non-violent protests against Internet censorship in various Indian cities, after some Internet service providers blocked file-sharing sites in the country.

The protests, planned for June 9, follow a court order in March directed at ISPs, meant to prevent a newly released local movie from being offered in a pirated version online. Some ISPs went ahead and blocked some file-sharing sites altogether, rather than the offending URLs.

One such ISP, Reliance Communications, found its service was tinkered with last week, redirecting its users from sites like Facebook and Twitter to a protest page, according to reports from users. The hackers also claimed to have attacked the website and servers of Reliance, and claimed to have got access to a large list of URLs blocked by the company.

Reliance Communications said on Monday it had thoroughly investigated the matter and all its servers and websites are intact. “We have required preventive measures and strongest possible IT security layers in place to tackle any unwarranted intrusions,” the company said in a statement. “Despite repeated attempts by hackers, our servers could not be hacked.”

The hackers also claimed to have attacked websites of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition party in the country, after having previously launched DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks on various websites including that of the Indian central bank, Reserve Bank of India.

Anonymous was active in India last year, when it attacked the website of the Indian army. It quickly reversed its decision to attack the site and kept a low profile after drawing protests from some of its own members.

Anonymous is asking supporters to download and print cut-outs of the Guy Fawkes mask, used by the hacker group as a logo, to be worn during the anti-censorship street protests.

The group’s protests are also directed at India’s Information Technology Act, which among other things allows the government to block websites under certain conditions, and also allows the removal of online content by notice to ISPs. The government is in the process of framing rules that will put curbs on freedom on social media, Anonymous said in a recent video, presumably a reference to demands by the government that Internet companies should have a mechanism in place to filter objectionable content, including content that mocks religious figures.

India’s Computer Emergency Response Team observed last week that hacker groups are launching DDoS attacks on government and private websites. These attacks may be targeted at different websites of reputed organizations, the agency said in an advisory. The attacks are being launched using popular DDoS tools and can consume bandwidth requiring appropriate proactive action in coordination with service providers, it added.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. John’s e-mail address isjohn_ribeiro@idg.com

Anonymous hacks BJP websites, wants people to protest against ‘web censorship’


, TNN | May 27, 2012,

Anonymous hacks BJP websites, wants people to protest against 'web censorship'
A day after messing with servers maintained by Reliance Communications, Anonymous, an international hacker collective, defaced two websites belonging to BJP on Sunday.
NEW DELHI: A day after messing with servers maintained by Reliance Communications, Anonymous, an international hacker collective, defaced two websites belonging to BJP on Sunday. Through its Twitter account (@opindia_back) it announced thatwww.mumbaibjp.org andwww.bjpmp.org.in were hacked by the group. After the hacking, the group posted a message to web users, asking them to organize protests against “web censorship” in Indiaon June 9.While the message was displayed on the homepage of www.mumbaibjp.org, onwww.bjpmp.org.in it was inserted as a page atbjpmp.org.in/ads/anon.html. On Mumbai BJP website the message was accompanied by a catchy tune embedded through a YouTube link.

“Today they took away your right to use a few websites… day after tomorrow they will take away your freedom of speech and no one will be there to speak for you. Speak Now or Never,” the message read. The hackers said that people should print out or buy Guy Fawkes Masks and wear them while protesting against web censorship in Bangalore, Mangalore, Kochi, Chennai, Vizag, Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad on June 9.

TOI reached out to Anonymous though Twitter, asking why it defaced BJP websites. “”Just needed a website to display our message,” said the person managing @opindia_back.

The Ion, who is likely a part of Anonymous and who uses @ProHaxor alias on Twitter, added, “BJP are the opposition they should have stopped this or should have organised a protest they did not do any.”

Incidentally, CERT-IN, the nodal agency in India for monitoring security and hacking incidents within the country’s cyberspace, said in a report on Sunday that hackers are targeting Indian websites. “It is observed that some hacker groups are launching Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on websites of government and private organizations in India,” the report said and asked network administrators to keep vigil.

Anonymous started attacking websites belonging to government agencies and companies likeReliance Communications last week after internet service providers blocked several websites in the country on the basis of an order by Madras high court. Anonymous says the blocking of websites is illegal and suppression of freedom of speech. On Friday it held a virtual ‘press conference’ and released a list of websites that were allegedly blocked on the internet service provided by Reliance Communications even though there was no legal requirement for the ISPto do so. The hackers said they stole the list from Reliance’ servers. At the same ‘press briefing’ the group called on Indian people to organize protests against web censorship on June 9.

In the last few months, Anonymous has organized or played a dominant role in real world protests against what it perceives censorship and abuse of power. The most popular of these protests has been Occupy Wall Street in the US. Though there were a number of groups and individuals involved in these protests Anonymous had played a key role in spreading the word.

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