Thursday, July 20, 2006

An Assault on Free Speech

[The title of this post is borrowed from the fine Opinion piece at The Hindu]

Ongoing episode of Internet Censorship has brought out so many issues on to the forefront:
  • Our Government has and will censor websites that it ("incompetent" authorities) determine to be inflammatory to our national security and for the larger good. They dont have to say (a) under what law the websites are being banned, (b) how they arrived at this decision and (c) how long they want these websites they want banned. All they have to do is ask the Assistant Director General of the Licensing & Regulation to write in a piece of paper the websites and sign it and send it off to all the ISPs.
  • ISPs in India dont have the technical skills that are required of a garden variety IT Administrator. While they received an order to block a given website URL that happens to be a subdomain, they go off and ban the whole damn domain. And when irated customers call and complain, they say its not them, its the DoT's fault.
  • Getting any official reaction from government on this episode has been near impossible. When called, the Director of CERT-IN, Mr. Gulshan Rai uttered those famous words - "Somebody must have blocked some sites. What is your problem?". I wonder why is it so difficult for the official responsible for this to give an detailed account on what happened. Why does our government suck so bad in communicating its affairs to its citizens? And why exactly CERT-IN (which is supposedly an Indian version of CERT - an independent R&D group associated with CMU) responsible for blocking websites?!
If our government believed that if by blocking its citizens from accessing content that it believes is inflammatory, it can keep them safe - then they are sadly mistaken. It goes against the basic right of Free Speech. By banning these sites, they actually increase attention towards these sites and whatever content they have on these sites. It works the opposite way. Also, it doesn't bode well for the Country's image when it wants to project itself as a responsible nation which can be a regional power. Censoring internet or any media for that matter would not win us any friends.

I am embarrassed, appalled and disappointed at our government for doing this. I hope they learn their lessons from this and rethink their policies regarding Internet and all media Censorship. If they dont, well we'll just have to make them do it.

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