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Anonymous India’s Takedowns Could Be Counterproductive

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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 LimitedAll 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.

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  • Angad Chowdhry

    Anonymous could also be a false flag op! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_flag 

  • nit3ch

    Any other way to stop censorship ?

  • Eosbuddy

    The democracy in India is very different one from the US or other western countries.  In US typically you can (and should) call up your senator to block a certain bill – people power is very tangible and perceptible in this system and the senators are highly accountable in this system (most of them have passion towards their service as well; of course, there are rotten eggs everywhere but at this level its more of a norm as far as accountability is concerned).  In India, the local councilor is disconnected and  corrupt – there is no accountability that trickles down and there the decisions taken on bills are very very uncontrollable (the government usually over-arches and is shot down or got to back by the opposition; e.g. the recent Rs. 2 back-down on the petrol prices). 

    So I can’t see the acts of Anonymous as path breaking or changing trends here in India (internet freedom is still way down in list when it comes to some of the basic rights denied here due to corruption and maladministration).

    Unless our basic education changes and people take up jobs for passion rather than remuneration and also, unless each individual is able to work and have a regular income and when caste based discrimination goes away … and the list goes on … situation will not improve here. 

  • The difference between Anonymous taking down sites in the US and taking down sites in India is that the sites in the US at least have a good number of users / visitors. Taking down sites like MTNL etc has no effect on users.

  • Madhavdas

    It is a fact that only owners of music and makers of movies are the only ones that are impacted by internet users downloading their content for free. The vast student communities of the world are the ones who love getting things for free. It is in their nature to demand things for free but then turn around and demand legislature to make it illegal when they start a company of their own.
    Why don’t we allot a certain percentage of money (say 20%) paid by internet users all over the world and give it in the proportion of 40% to music content owners and 60% to film societies. After that there will be no objections from film producers and music labels. Sure there may be Indians in India who will download Hollywood content and that money may also go to IPRS or Indian Film Associations but by the same token when Indians abroad download Indian movies that money will go to their collection agencies. It may even out the monies.
    ISP’s like Airtel, BSNL, Vodafone etc are in any case already earning from internet users when their customers use up their allotted time to download illegal content so sharing a small percentage will not matter.
    Let us see how many will agree to this suggestion. I suspect that students will object because by nature they are bloody minded.