Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Blocking blogs makes no sense

Many of my regular readers, in most parts of India, may not be able to read the postings here, at least for some time, till the directive given by the government to ISPs to block blogs hosted on some sites is lifted. Since I can continue posting, and since even in India, I am told, some places can indeed access the blocked sites, let me continue blogging, which is totally innocuous.

On 17th night the first mails had come into my inbox from bloggers who were experiencing difficulty in accessing their own sites after publishing a post. The doubts that it could have been server problem were replaced by a combination of frustration and anguish as news spread like wildfire on the internet of the Indian government having told ISPs bar access to some blogs.

Yesterday I was fully busy with a reporting assignment and couldn't follow the strange censorship that had taken effect covertly. Today, I find that the blogsphere is all this and nothing else.

One person among the hundreds who have been diligently tracking the issue is Neha Viswanathan from London. Interestingly, the Indian media -- the print and the electronic -- have taken up the issue vigorously. The Times of India has an interesting article on how to Circumvent Censorship.

A typical case of throwing the baby with the bath water. Apparently the intent was to clamp down on malicious, rabid, inflammatory and, possibly even, subversive messages being posted by disruptive elements in the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts.

According to a Financial Express report, the government directive was to block only 18 URLs that were found to be offensive. The entire community is being blocked out, it seems, because the ISPs aren't equipped to filter all the pages, since the servers are located abroad. So, they have ended up blocking the entire domain, thus shutting down all the blogs.

Who broached this idea and who willingly gave the nod, is quite puzzling, in a country like India which is quite advanced in Information Technology. And, it is also by now, quite well known that such curbs don't work.

One, a prospective villain isn't going to be deterred by this ban at all. Two, since the virtual world of internet has a free-for-all element unlike the real world, it is in the nature of the medium to have a very broad spectrum of opinions on various issues. Truth and lie, real and fake, all coexist on one platform. Three, bans simply don't work, whether it be in the real world or in the virtual. Four, such curbs which have no sound basis only tempt technology whizkids to work on circumventing the hurdles. And, the more things are suppressed, stronger they bounce back.

And, if one has noticed, as much as the widespread protests, are alternatives that are freely flying over emails and discussion groups, on how to get around the block. The techies seem to have taken this as a challenge and seem to be in a race to invent or discover newer and newer methods!

The government -- if it suspected foul-play in the webworld -- should have got its techie sleuths to monitor suspicious sites. Our police and intelligence wings do have a cyber crime cells. What are they for, then? There is ample technology available to track down offensive websites, spy on its managers and content generators, and then to pounce on the villains who are misusing the wonderful cyberspace for disruptive activities.

Blocking out blogs in an arbitrary and blanket fashion is no way to ensure a citizen's safety. Nor it is a remotely acceptable way to educate people on vices and virtues of this world. This looks like another of our knee-jerk reactions to terror. Substantive efforts have to be mounted on ground, in the real world, to secure out lives.

I hope wiser counsel will prevail and this ban will be lifted before long.

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