… My heart’s in Accra Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

July 17, 2006

India joins an elite club?

Quick – what do India, Pakistan, China and Ethiopia have in common?

It’s not a love of cricket. Or clandestine nuclear arms programs. Or even a fondness for flatbread.

They’re all – apparently – blocking blogspot.com.

India is the newcomer to this party, and it’s unclear just what blogs are being blocked, whether all ISPs are complying, and whether all blogspot blogs will be blocked or just a subset of sites. Fortunately, Indian bloggers are on the case, rapidly documenting just what can and can’t be reached.

Neha Viswanathan – Global Voices editor for South Asia and lovely human being – is doing a fantastic job of documenting the situation on her blog. Reading from the top to the bottom of a recent post – with fourteen updates – you get an excellent sense of how Indian bloggers are figuring out just what, precisely, is going on. She points to several other articles, which have excellent summaries of the situation, as people currently understand it, including Rediff, Amit, and Dina.

One of the major challenges of documenting and decrying Internet censorship is that it can be very confusing to figure out precisely why you can’t access a particular website. Is the problem specific to your internet service provider? Is the server down? Or is a block of some sort taking place? Groups like Open Net Initiative do an excellent job of documenting the specifics of internet filtering, but they’re academic groups and have a focus on getting the story right, not on speed. (I’ve written about this before.) Indian bloggers are showing a distributed model for filtering testing that has interesting possibilities for the future – Neha and others have posted information on running traceroutes to blogger.com and are asking people to post the results of their inquiries on various Indian ISPs on a wiki.

The story that seems to be emerging: a directive from the Department of Telecommunications has ordered a set of sites to be blocked within India. Shivam Vij reports:

Then I called up a senior MTNL engineer who’s in-charge of these things, Mr. R.H.Sharma. Mr Sharma was polite and helpful and said that he had a long 22-page of list of sites, sent to him by the National Informatics Centre, and he would needs two hours to go through it and find out if it contains any Blogspot or Typepad site! But he said that as far as he knew MTNL had not blocked blogspot per se.

It is possible that ISPs, charged with complying with DoT guidelines, are overblocking all Blogspot, Geocites and Typepad blogs. It’s also possible that, with protests from the Indian blogger community, more specific guidelines will emerge so that only the specific sites mentioned on the 22-page list are blocked. It’s also possible that outcry will be such that blocks as a whole will be eliminated. But this isn’t the first time the Indian government has responded to online speech with a heavy hand – Rediff gives an account of Yahoo! Group blocking in 2003:

In 2003, one of the first things CERT-IN did was to approve the blocking of an obscure mailing list run by a banned militant outfit, the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) of the Khasi tribe in Meghalaya. Ironically, the popularity and visibility of the list went up by leaps and bounds, despite it being blocked by all ISPs. Many could still see the list via email or proxy surfing.

The timing of the block seems to reflect concerns about terrorism, given the recent Mumbai train bombings. Chacko at Great Indian Mutiny makes this connection explicit, citing an anonymous source who reported, “It seems that some blogs are being used by some terror units (read SIMI) to communicate. There is a crack down in place. IP numbers are being physically located and identified. All should come back to normal once this operation is over. There is no ban in place. Livejournal and WordPress have been spared. No reason given.” (SIMI = “Student Islamic Movement of India”)

Needless to say, most Indian bloggers are deeply upset about this apparent block. The fact that Pakistan has a similar block in place – put in place in the wake of the Danish cartoons, fiercely combatted by the Don’t Block the Blogs campaign – isn’t much consolation. Vulturo notes, “When the Pakistani government blocked access to blogs hosted on blogspot, it felt sort of ridiculous. Such things could only happen in Pakistan, I reflected smugly. Or China, perhaps. Surely we need not be worried, I thought.”

As we learn more about the situation, it seems that Indian bloggers very much need to be worried. As blogs become more an more important as a platform for free speech, government seeking to restrict speech are finding it appealing to control speech on blogs. Let’s hope the reaction within and outside India is loud, fierce and sufficient to prevent India from permanently joining the ranks of countries that find online speech too threatening to allow to flower.

28 Comments

  1. […] Ethan Zuckerman brings news of today’s major blog-buzz-story, blocking of some major blogsites by Indian ISPs (or so it seems – blog murmurs can sometimes be misleading, of course!). Apparently a list has been issued by national authorities and ISPs are carrying out the orders. We’ll see where it goes. […]

    Pingback by Lex Ferenda » Blog blocking in India — July 17, 2006 @ 7:37 pm

  2. SIMI probably uses phone lines, too.. why dont we ban all phone conversation too? how about speech, in general?

    Comment by Manu — July 17, 2006 @ 10:48 pm

  3. […] Ethan Zuckerman sadly says that India has joined an ‘elite’ club; something we could have done without. […]

    Pingback by DesiPundit » Archives » Blogspot.com Blocked In India By Some ISPs — July 17, 2006 @ 11:06 pm

  4. […] But can’t we, for once, do it like all the full grown evil empires instead of like complete fucking retards? Real evil has a face. Let’s outsource it! […]

    Pingback by » It’s true, I am Cat Stevens, but we are not a superpower by Kingsley 2.0 — July 18, 2006 @ 12:20 am

  5. […] Ethan Zuckerman asks “what do India, Pakistan, China, and Ethiopia have in common?” […]

    Pingback by Scobleizer - Tech Geek Blogger » Blocking Blogger — July 18, 2006 @ 1:41 am

  6. […] what do India, Pakistan, China and Ethiopia have in common? […]

    Pingback by moving republic » India’s censors web again — July 18, 2006 @ 3:33 am

  7. Manu, I think it’s more effective to ban breathing, which I heard SIMI engages in as well…

    Comment by Ethan — July 18, 2006 @ 10:23 am

  8. […] As Ethan Zuckerman points out so eloquently, India has joined a very elite club… One who’s membership also includes China, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. All countries that censor their citizen’s Internet access. […]

    Pingback by :Ben Metcalfe Blog » Blog Archive » India bans access to TypePad, Blogspot and GeoCities — July 18, 2006 @ 10:35 am

  9. […] News sources: http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1042305 and http://ethanzuckerman.com/blog/?p=893 […]

    Pingback by ctrlw.net » Blog Archive » Antiblog politics in India — July 18, 2006 @ 12:22 pm

  10. […] Ethan Zuckerman writes: Quick – what do India, Pakistan, China and Ethiopia have in common? […]

    Pingback by Amitava Kumar :: Blocking Blogging :: July :: 2006 — July 18, 2006 @ 12:47 pm

  11. > As we learn more about the situation, it seems that Indian bloggers very much need to be worried. As blogs become more an more important as a platform for free speech,

    I think you totally miss the point. It isn’t about freedom of speech. Certain blogspot blogs were used as communication tool by terrorists to mastermind the Mumbai attacks which killed several hundreds of people using RDX. Indian government asked a handful of sites to be blocked. However ISP’s chose the easy way and blocked the whole domain – blogspot.com.

    > Needless to say, most Indian bloggers are deeply upset about this apparent block.

    And no most Indian blogger’s aren’t worried at all. They have proxies if they are desperate to read any blogspot blogs.

    The measure though ineffective to block serious criminals may just be enough (at least I hope so) to block most terrorists who probably have spent their whole life reading nothing but certain scriptures and being brain-washed.

    Comment by Angsuman Chakraborty — July 18, 2006 @ 4:18 pm

  12. This is terrible news. It is a victory for the terrorists and I just hope the Indian government quickly reverses itself. Don’t the terrorists also use phones and paper to communicate?

    Comment by China Law Blog — July 18, 2006 @ 4:19 pm

  13. It’s quite possible that I’m missing the point, Angsuman, and also possible that we disagree on the the priorities. Given the possibility of evading blocking techniques with proxies, it seems absurd to try to break up terrorist groups by blocking blogspot blogs. There are hundreds of other communication technologies violent criminals to organize online. Your speculation that the “brain-washed” aren’t creative enough to use proxies is challenged by the sophistication of the techniques extremist groups are using to distribute recruitment videos via the web, bit torrent and other technologies. What blocking all of blogspot does is makes the diversity and creativity of India’s blogosphere invisible to the vast majority of Indians who don’t know how to use a proxy server or aren’t motivated to do so. Blocking a small set of specific blogs would have had a very different effect that what appears to have actually occured. Blocking all blogspot blogs, in my opinion, has a seriously detrimental effect on free online speech.

    Comment by Ethan — July 18, 2006 @ 4:29 pm

  14. […] go here. here. here. here. here and here. […]

    Pingback by fractured.earth / a short, crisp note to the indian government — July 18, 2006 @ 11:16 pm

  15. […] Ethan Zuckerman says, “What do India, Pakistan, China and Ethiopia have in common? It’s not a love of cricket. Or clandestine nuclear arms programs. Or even a fondness for flatbread. They’re all – apparently – blocking blogspot.com.” […]

    Pingback by Asia Tech Weblog » Blog Archive » Why India Blocks Blogger — July 19, 2006 @ 1:41 am

  16. […] Mida on ühist Indial, Hiinal, Etioopial ning Pakistanil? Vastuse saab Ethan Zukermani blogist – kõik need maad on nimelt blokeerinud ligipääsu blogspot.com blogidele. […]

    Pingback by Technic Kitchen » Blog Archive » India liitus klubiga — July 19, 2006 @ 3:45 am

  17. […] Our ISP’s in infinite wisdom decides to block entire blogspot domain. That’s all it takes for few bloggers like Robert Scoble and Ethan Zuckerman to overreact: Ethan Zuckerman asks: “Quick – what do India, Pakistan, China and Ethiopia have in common? […]

    Pingback by Robert Scoble Makes Inane “Sucks” Comment on India -Simple Thoughts - Java and Web Technology Blog — July 19, 2006 @ 1:00 pm

  18. […] Ethan Zuckerman asks “what do India, Pakistan, China, and Ethiopia have in common?” […]

    Pingback by Crazy Factor » Blocking Blogger — July 19, 2006 @ 3:22 pm

  19. […] My commentary on India’s unfortunate block of blogging sites was amplified on Robert Scoble’s blog, where the juxtaposition of India with China, Pakistan and Ethiopia angered some commenters. My point of juxtaposing those countries together was to express my surprise and dismay that India – the world’s largest democracy – would respond to controversial speech online by preventing citizens from encountering it. India has a large and thriving blogosphere, one that has established itself as an effective press critic, a force for fact-checking, a space for dialog between Indians living in the diaspora and on the subcontinent, and as an effective tool for distributed relief and charitable efforts. My point, as Desipundit noted, was to express my sadness that Indian bloggers were denied access to a tool they’ve used so effectively. […]

    Pingback by …My heart’s in Accra » Disagreements and thoughts over India’s blog block — July 20, 2006 @ 11:35 am

  20. http://mutiny.wordpress.com/2006/07/21/isps%e2%80%99-laziness-caused-the-indian-blog-blackout/ for the real story behind the blockade.

    Comment by Woke — July 22, 2006 @ 3:34 am

  21. The long dawn of Indian internet activism

    Trackback by jace.seacrow.com — July 22, 2006 @ 5:55 pm

  22. There was a debate on the ongoing blog ban at the Bloggers
    Collective Group,
    http://groups.google.com/group/BloggersCollective/browse_thread/thread/4e1af02dd2d83b52/a29fd0e33a9050e3
    when some callous cad techie called Kiran Jonnalagadda from Bangalore
    comes out of the blue and posts this nasty and shocking comment:

    “Awww! Poor you! Someone blew up a train in your city and you didn’t
    even get a t-shirt. Here, take some sympathy. ”

    Kiran Jonnalagadda

    http://www.pobox.com/~jace

    http://jace.seacrow.com/about/contact

    How can we fight enemies from outside when we have such heartless guys within?

    Comment by Sunil — July 22, 2006 @ 6:22 pm

  23. […] We’re enraged. We feel violated. Who is this government that claims to represent and protect us, but thinks nothing of shafting us when they please? That holds us in contempt for seeking to understand why? […]

    Pingback by moving republic » The long dawn of Indian internet activism — July 23, 2006 @ 4:46 am

  24. […] India has joined company with an elite club, as Ethan Zuckerman calls it. The elite club consists of India, Pakistan, China and Ethiopia. […]

    Pingback by Own Online Business! Blog » Blog Archive » Blogspot hosted blogs banned in Pakistan India China — August 5, 2006 @ 1:23 pm

  25. Open Proxy List…

    Well, I am going to update this every time I get some new proxies. Open proxies can be useful for all sorts of “legal” stuff. If your an SEOer you can use them for searching Google and other search engines, especially if you need to search those site…

    Trackback by JRB Technology — September 19, 2006 @ 9:14 am

  26. […] like these, how can we figure out what, precisely, is going on? The co-founder of Global Voices, Ethan Zuckerman, expressed it when he said: “One of the major challenges of documenting and decrying Internet […]

    Pingback by Facebook blocked in the United Arab Emirates? at Global Voices Advocacy — October 3, 2007 @ 9:47 am

  27. […] the difficulties of reporting on anti-censorship issues. As Global Voices co-founder Ethan Zuckerman has said, “one of the major challenges of documenting and decrying Internet censorship is […]

    Pingback by Global Voices Online » Free Speech Roundup: China, UAE, Jordan, Iran and more — October 12, 2007 @ 3:17 pm

  28. […] Zuckerman sadly says that India has joined an ‘elite’ club; something we could have done without. Vijay Rao seems to suggest that the block is enforced only […]

    Pingback by Big Brother Flexes His Muscles in India | Gates of Vienna — January 25, 2013 @ 6:44 am

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