Internet Filtering in India

India is not new to Internet filtering. Back in 2004 India’s Ministry of Communications & Information Technologyordered ISP’s to start blocking web sites. The target was a particular Yahoo! Group, but the ISP’s blocked access to the IP address (see Why Block by IP?) of the domain causing all Yahoo! Groups to be blocked illustrating one of Internet filtering’s unintended consequences. India subsequently ordered the extremist HinduUnity site to be blocked as well (which caused additional “over-blocking”). There were variations in compliance but large ISPs such as VSNL did comply.

So India’s new filtering is not surprising. Once again the Ministry ordered sites to be blocked, some of which are blogs hosted on Blogspot and Typepad. The ISP’s blocked the IP addresses of the sites causing all the blogs hosted on them to be blocked.

There have also been reports that ISP’s started to target circumvention sites, clearly showing the “mission creep” that occurs whenever Internet filtering is introduced.

After protests by bloggers India’s ISP association now indicates that the block on the blog services (not the specific blogs on the block list) will be lifted within 48 hours. INstructions are being circulated amongst the ISP that puport to show how to block the specific domain names on the Ministry’s block order while keeping access to other blogs hosted on Blogspot and Typepad accessible. The technique they’ve chosen in DNS poisioning:

“An advisory is being sent from ISPAI to member ISPs saying they should configure their Domain Name Servers (DNS) in such a way that they block only the sub-domains DoT wants blocked,” said Singhal, adding, “It would help if, in future, DoT could also mention the mechanism by which sites should be blocked.”

I suspect that this is a short term solution, as filtering in this way is extremely easy to circumvent. As is the case with other countries, as the list of sites to block gets longer we can expect to see the implementation of more robust commercial filtering technology and with it an increase in the amount of content filtered. (I wonder if SmartFilter and Websense reps are on a plane to Delhi right now).The mission creep will expand, the unintended consequences will continue and there will be a decrease in transparency and accountabilty. this has had, and will continue to have a negative impact on freedom of speech and expression in India.

I hope I am wrong.

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