Flix Friday, January 16, 2015 - 05:30
The News Minute| December 31, 2014| 10.29 pm IST It was revealed on Wednesday that the Department of Telecom has blocked 32 websites including Vimeo, a video host, and Github, a website used by software developers to host and share programming code, Daily Motion , Pastebin, Archive.org, Pastie and CryptBin. The websites had been blocked following an order by a an additional chief metropolitan magistrate for allowing pasting of jihadi propaganda and carrying anti India content from ISIS. Later, the government decided to unblock four websites after they said they will not allow pasting of jihadi propaganda and also work with the government to remove such material as per laws of the land. "These websites have undertaken not to allow pasting of such propaganda information on their website and also work with the government to remove such material as per the compliance with the laws of land. "The action has been initiated to unblock the following sites -- weebly.com, vimeo.com, dailymotion.com and gist.github.com," said a statement from the communications and information technology ministry. Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nundy who is representing the Peoples' Union of Civil Liberties before the Supreme Court in a case challenging laws and rules that silence speech online answers our queries on the government's action. 1. The government of India has blocked 32 sites including @internetarchive and @vimeo. What in your view could explain this? The Website Blocking Rules say there must be "strict confidentiality" around blocking requests and action by government. So any information is from leaks or investigation by media or civil society. I'm told that on Nov 11, 2014 a Mumbai trial court magistrate told the Central Government's Department of Information Technology - they aren't called DEITY without reason! - to block the websites. The trial court said the sites were being used for ISIS propaganda. On Nov 15, the Mumbai ATS sent DEITY a similar request. The 32 sites banned included GitHub which hosts some internet startup companies, Vimeo a video sharing website filmmakers use and many other with a lot of content that has absolutely no connection with or knowledge of ISIS propoganda. It's particularly bizarre that the entire sites have been blocked- it's like blocking access to all of Facebook because there happens to be an ISIS Facebook page. In offline terms this would be like shutting down a market because one shop is illegal. Or closing a bookstore because one book is to be banned. After all the outrage, it seems the government has unblocked a few of the sites. But this is a rare case in which leaked information told people why their websites were not available. In the vast majority of cases, censorship is secret. 2. Does the government have the right to do this without informing the site or accounts? Yes, Rule 16 of the Website Blocking Rules 2009 requires them to do so in secret. We filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2012 to quash this rule as unnecessary and, more importantly, unconstitutional. 3. How do you, as a human rights lawyer, propose to address this? I am representing the Peoples' Union of Civil Liberties before the Supreme Court in a case challenging laws and rules that silence speech online. We are challenging the Website Blocking Rules of 2009, also Section 66A of the IT Act and Intermediary Guidelines. The case is being heard along with the Shreya Singhal case, that challenges Section 66A. People who use GitHub, Vimeo and other sites- readers, listeners, fimmakers, business owners and others - they all have rights. A right to know which sites are blocked and why. They must be able to challenge illegal blocks and censorship by government in court. These are all constitutional rights denied. The final hearing has already begun- the case is listed for arguments again in January, 2015. 4. What are some of the rights that people in India have to defend themselves from such actions? RTI applications have worked in a tiny minority of blocking cases - but even there, answers are partial, reasons not given. If a book is banned the government notifies the ban in its public gazette. The ban can be challenged in court by the author or even a potential reader- because a right to free speech includes the right to read or listen. If the book is online, the censorship would be entirely secret. Nobody - not the author, nor any potential readers- would be allowed to challenge that ban. So even if the government bans an entire website which hosts books, because one book had "illegal" content, the authors of the other books would not be able to challenge the ban just because the book's not made of paper. Tweet Follow @thenewsminute
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