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takedown or delete illegal content. This introduces further ambiguity, but regardless of how the
authority is distributed between these groups, they all operate under the powerful Minister of
Communications and Information Technology, Kapal Sibal, whose cabinet portfolio was extended
in May 2013 to include the law ministry.
Popular criticism that content controls are too
centralized may focus on the wrong institutions, but the underlying concern is often legitimate.
As in many democracies, the Indian judiciary is an independent arbiter of content disputes, and the
government approves blocking orders submitted by the courts automatically. Regrettably, this
gives local courts—who are often subject to social and political pressure, lack experience with
internet issues, and can make rulings ex parte, meaning that they only hear one side of the case—
considerable power to curb content. In some cases, service providers complied with blocking
orders sent by lawyers informing them of a court decision, instead of an official notice, introducing
additional scope for abuse.
In February 2013, Rai’s committee instructed ISPs to block more than
70 URLs criticizing the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, a private business school, and
its founder Arindam Chaudhuri, on the order of a district court in Madhya Pradesh, which was
hearing a defamation suit filed by the institute.
One of the websites targeted belonged to the
University Grants Commission,
which accredits higher educational institutions and refuses to
recognize Chaudhuri’s right to award degrees, a decision he characterized as defamatory.
of news articles reporting on the dispute, by Outlook magazine, the Times of India, the Wall Street
Journal and the satirical website fakingnews, among others, were also blocked.
Since court orders
are meant to be stayed by other courts, several news reports said the government would have to
appeal against blocking that its own agencies had facilitated—one whose principle victim, the
Commission, was a statutory body of the Indian government.
Since 2011, a handful of higher courts have blocked content relating to copyright violations through
particularly broad John Doe—or in India, Ashok Kumar—orders, which don’t name a defendant.
These are not only pre-emptive—passed to prevent future violations of a movie that is not yet
released—they are also misused by entertainment companies to make ISPs block entire platforms,
whether or not they are hosting pirated material.
This was demonstrated in May 2012 when as
many as 38 ISPs completely blocked a range of platforms, ranging from video site Vimeo to file-
sharing websites; some reports said they were inaccessible for as long as a month.
The New Delhi-
Anirudh Wadhwa, “A To‐Do List for the New Law Minister,” May 16, 2013, http://bit.ly/182ul3Y.
Shalini Singh, “164 Items Blocked Online in Just 2 Days, Mostly on Court Orders,” The Hindu, February 22, 2013,
“Directed by Court, DoT Moves to Block 73 URLs Critical of IIPM,” Times of India, February 15, 2013, http://bit.ly/XnqrPz.
University Grants Commission, “Genesis,” http://www.ugc.ac.in/page/Genesis.aspx.
Urmi Goswami, “UGC Again Warns Students About IIPM,” February 19, 2013, http://bit.ly/1hbu1CT.
Danish Raza, “Glad Defamatory Links with Malicious Interests Removed: Arindam Chaudhuri,” Firstpost, February 18, 2013,
Shalini Singh, “164 Items Blocked Online in Just 2 Days;” “Govt Will Challenge Order to Block 78 Web Pages on IIPM,” Times of
India, February 20, 2013, http://bit.ly/ZvS63I.
Kian Ganz, “[Update: Download Gangs of Wasseypur Order] Bombay HC Passes First Anti‐piracy John Doe Order, as Law Firms
Commoditise the New Vertical,” Legally India, June 15, 2012, http://bit.ly/KIibkI.
Apar Gupta, “Ashok Kumar is a Habitual Offender,” India Law and Technology Blog, May 18, 2013, http://bit.ly/KsTdoC; Abhik
Majumdar, “What's with this Kolaveri about John Doe Injunctions?” Law and Other Things, June 3, 2012, http://bit.ly/164cgUk.
Anupam Saxena, “ISP Wise List Of Blocked Sites #IndiaBlocks,” Medianama, May 17, 2012, http://bit.ly/Jl5wlr; Software
Freedom Law Center, “When Copyright Tramples on the Right to Freedom of Expression,” July 2, 2012, http://bit.ly/19e0GCF.
REEDOM ON THE
based Software Freedom Law Center said Copyright Labs, an agency representing a movie
production company, had interpreted an April court order from the Madras High Court in
Chennai, state capital of Tamil Nadu, to allow absolute blocking, and that ISPs had complied; the
court subsequently clarified that the order was only intended to affect specific URLs, not whole
Experts hope this clarification will encourage ISPs to contest widespread orders,
though some of the sites remained inaccessible even after the court’s statement, and some news
reports said more than 20 other John Doe orders issued by courts around the country are still open
to wrongful implementation.
These processes are not transparent for internet users, who are not informed of blocks until they
encounter an error message—the 2008 IT amendment actually prohibits blocking complaints and
decisions being made public. In some cases, error notifications cite a generic technical fault; in
others, they add to confusion by citing an order from the DOT instead of DEITY. (Asked about one
of these notifications, the DOT clarified that it was not responsible.
) In 2011, the Bangalore-based
Center for Internet and Society obtained a list of 11 blocks via a freedom of information request,
which it matched to 11 judicial orders.
Even then, there was no definitive way of confirming if the
block came through via a court or DEITY—and consequently, no clear avenue for appeal. Results
can even vary by ISP. Many rely on domain name system (DNS) tampering to stop users from
visiting specific URLs or domains. In theory, this allows ISPs to interrupt the connection between
an individual blog page and the person trying to retrieve it, and should not affect entire platforms.
In practice, blocks are frequently overbroad, making it impossible to know which websites were
targeted and which fell victim to collateral blocking.
In late 2012, the Toronto-based research
group Citizen Lab reported three ISPs in India using PacketShaper technology, which allows more
sophisticated blocking and throttling.
In April 2013, the Economic Times, citing minutes from a
Home Ministry meeting, said the government planned to ask ISPs to segregate IP addresses by state
to allow content blocking and monitoring on a regional basis.
More nuanced filtering might seem like a welcome development in light of the court orders
outlined above. In reality, it is cause for concern, given the disproportionate number of blocks
ordered in the past year. In addition to the examples already considered, several hundred more
pages were blocked based on communal or religious unrest. In August 2012, tensions between
Muslims and non-Muslims in northeastern states including Assam, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and
Maharashtra caused thousands to flee the region and sparked violence in cities around the country.
Software Freedom Law Center, “When Copyright Tramples on the Right to Freedom of Expression.”
Nikhil Pahwa, “No More John Doe Orders? Indian ISPs Get Court Order For Specificity In URL Blocks,” Medianama, June 20,
Prasad Krishna, “Reply to RTI Application on Blocking of Website and Rule 419A of Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951,” Center for
Information and Society, March 21, 2013, http://bit.ly/16JEbVd.
Kul Bhushan, “Anonymous Takes Down IIPM Sites After DoT Blocks ‘Defamatory URLs,’” Think Digit, February 18, 2013,
Pranesh Prakash, “DIT’s Response to RTI on Website Blocking,” Center for Internet and Society, April 7, 2011,
OpenNet Initiative, “India,” 2012.
T. Ramachandran, “Indian ISPs Too Resorting to Censorship,” The Hindu, February 9, 2013, http://bit.ly/1bhjlBC.
Joji Thomas Philip, “Net Telephony Providers Will be Asked to Set Up Servers in India,” Economic Times, May 20, 2013,
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The government said that online hate speech, including falsified images of Muslims suffering violent
attacks, was deliberately circulated to exacerbate the violence, and ordered blocks on at least 309
specific online items, a figure which was leaked to the press.
That number, which did not
differentiate between blocks on entire platforms or individual URLs, was probably conservative,
and the blocking was widely censured as indiscriminate.
Instead of combatting inflammatory content, the government’s action disabled many objective
sources of information, such as the Twitter handles of New Delhi-based journalists Shiv Aroor and
Kanchan Gupta, who used their accounts to report on the unrest. News reports said that only a fifth
of sites targeted mentioned the northeast, which undermined public trust in the action.
accused Pakistani authorities of orchestrating online hate campaigns, adding a possible political
motive for blocking. Other content, including a handful of political Twitter accounts such as
@DrYumYumSingh, which spoofs Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, became inaccessible at the
same time, although they were not on the leaked list, leading many to wonder if political critics
were being singled out as well.
Other reports said Twitter had removed some accounts for
violating user agreements.
In February 2013, the Press Trust of India said a “high-level
government committee” had decreed that 306 blocks on Twitter accounts implemented during this
period were lawful, while four were not. It’s not clear which accounts were affected or whether
this number related to the 309 items described above, most of which were not hosted by Twitter.
Over 240 further URLs were reportedly blocked in November 2012 in relation to the anti-Islamic
“Innocence of Muslims” video uploaded in the United States in September, which prompted
protests by Muslim communities throughout Asia. Minister Sibal publicly announced the blocks,
and said more were forthcoming.
Google separately reported having blocked access from India to
several YouTube videos related to the “Innocence of Muslims” video, based on government
Restrictions were more severe in the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, where militant
groups seek political autonomy or union with Pakistan. After “Innocence of Muslims” caused mass
protests in September 2012, residents of the state reported the blocking of several social networks,
including Facebook and YouTube, as well as some disruption to e-mail, search engines, and
Blackberry phone service; other mobile providers also blocked internet access altogether.
reports said the state government ordered these shutdowns under Section 5(2) of the Indian
Telegraph Act 1885, which shouldn’t be possible, because it only pertains to the emergency
Pranesh Prakash, “Analysing Latest List of Blocked Sites (Communalism & Rioting Edition),” Center for Internet and Society,
August 22, 2012, http://cis‐india.org/internet‐governance/blog/analysing‐blocked‐sites‐riots‐communalism .
Madeline Earp, “India's Clumsy Internet Crackdown.”
Pranesh Prakash, “Analysing Latest List of Blocked Sites.”
Kul Bhushan, “Facebook, Google to Help India Remove Hate Content; Twitter Blocks Fake Accounts,” Think Digit, August 22,
“Government Panel Okays Blocking of 306 Twitter Accounts,” Press Trust of India, via Times of India, February 6, 2013,
“Government Blocks 240 Weblinks Related to Provocative Film,” Press Trust of India via NDTV, November 1, 2012,
Google, “India,” July to December 2012, in Transparency Report, http://bit.ly/1biQu3o.
“YouTube, Facebook Blocked on Mobile,” Greater Kashmir, September 30 , 2012, http://bit.ly/QDF7Hq.
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested