As I write this, Anonymous India has apparently taken down MTNL’s website, citing the ISPs decision to block sites, without apparently being quite aware why it is doing that. Last night, the collective claimed to have taken down the website of the ISPAI, India’s ISP Association. Last Saturday, there were discussions on the groups IRC to take down the website for the Ministry of Company Affairs. So far, it has taken down websites for the Andhra Pradesh Power Generation Corporation Limited, All Indian Trinamool Congress (AITMC), as well as several websites related to the Mizoram government, apart from accessing and publishing server logs from Reliance Communications.
Anonymous India’s activities do help: they increase awareness of India’s war on the Internet, both by the government through legislation and censorship, and by movie producers and copyright owners through takedown notices and John Doe orders. There still remain citizens online who aren’t aware of why they aren’t able to access legitimate content – last night, someone from the books publishing industry asked me why she wasn’t able to access the video in this post on ‘Designing for the Future Book‘ on her Airtel connection. The video is hosted on Vimeo, which remains blocked in India. Now she knows why.
Anonymous India has also shed light on what all is being blocked by sharing what are allegedly Reliance Communications’ logs on blocks. These logs suggest that ISPs were going beyond the mandate given to them by the courts and the government. It’s also clear that ISPs aren’t protecting the rights of their customers, and are implementing blocks either in a ham-handed manner, or in a manner that suits them or their related companies. They are as much to blame as those getting the orders issued, and so there is undoubtedly some schadenfreude in seeing both government and ISP websites taken down by Anonymous India.
Still, you have to wonder about how the powers that be will react to this situation: no government will show that it is bucking under what it perceives to be cyber terrorism: it’s not just an ego thing; there is also a legitimate fear that if the government is seen as buckling under such attacks, it would lead to cyber attacks whenever there is something that warrants a protest. The attacks by Anonymous could be counterproductive for two other reasons: firstly, because the natural reaction to any kind of attack is to increase spending and changes in laws. While India is already spending on surveillance and identification, cyberattacks will justify these spends, make the case for more, and lead to more changes in government policy.
The second reason is that these attacks could lead to the undoing of a lot of work done by activists for Internet freedom. The Software Freedom Law Center, Centre For Internet and Society, Avaaz, Change.org, The Internet Democracy Project, and many many others have spent many months reaching out to and educating parliamentarians and the lawmakers of the country on issues related to the draconian IT Rules. The IT Rules have resulted in websites and ISPs censoring content online when they have been send unfair and flawed takedown notices, and they need to be changed. The cyberattacks could once again be used by the Home Ministry and those at CERT-IN to justify continuing with such draconian rules, and especially since many MP’s are not aware of the nuances of the potential for misuse; some MPs (I’ve observed) appear to be choosing to be on the fence on this, either on account of lack of interest or lack of depth of understanding.
Activities that bring more information on the blocks to light help strengthen the case for more specificity in court orders by highlighting misuse by copyright owners and ISPs, and also for modification in the IT Rules. Taking down sites weakens it.