The Indian government has admitted to have blocked 245 web pages with inflammatory and hateful content, following the exodus of a large number of people belonging to the North Eastern ethnic community from cities like Bangalore and Pune, among others. Interestingly, the government has also pointed towards the involvement of a neighboring country (Pakistan), in its statement.
What the Indian Government has done
- Asked all intermediaries including national and international social networking sites, to disable inflammatory and hateful content including morphed images and videos, ‘aimed at targeting people of North East’, hosted on their websites. This is via an advisory issued by the Department of Electronics & Information Technology 17th August 2012.
- Called a meeting of the representatives of international social networking sites based in India and advised them to take all possible action to disable the content. The government has also enforced section 69A of the Information Technology Act 2000 to block web pages through intermediaries.
- Issued orders directing intermediaries including international social networking sites to block 76 web pages on 18th August 2012, 80 web pages on 19th August 2012 and 89 web pages on 20th August 2012.
- Asked intermediaries (which includes ISPs) and international social networking sites were to provide registration details and access logs of users who have uploaded the inflammatory content.
Foreign Hand, Says One Social Networking site
The government also claims that the initial response from international social networking sites points towards the involvement of Pakistan, as one intermediary social networking site has said that the up-loaders of the inflammatory and hateful content were outside the jurisdiction of the country, and that it was not obliged to take any constructive step to check it.
Why is the Indian Government doing this?
The Government has said that the sites/pages were hosting hateful content including morphed images and videos, ‘aimed at targeting people of North East’, and that most of the content was taken from events unrelated to the incident occurred in Assam. The government said that this content incited comments from other users and disturbed peace and harmony among the communities leading to public disorder and the exodus. Note that the Indian government has already blocked bulk SMS and MMS for a period of 15 days(starting 17th August) , and most telecom operators are not allowing their prepaid subscribers to send more than 5 SMS in a day.
What more does the Indian Government want?
The Government expects ‘quicker action’ from international social networking sites. It has directed all social networking sites to continuously monitor and block hateful content. This is in line with the demands made by Kapil Sibal last year, and we hope that this doesn’t lead to calls for pre-censorship of content online again. This shouldn’t lead to temporary or permanent censorship of social media websites either.
What should be done
In the interest of transparency, the Indian government needs to publish a list of links (We feel that the government should have also listed the web pages which are being blocked, alongwith with the reason for blocking each, and the process for getting blocks removed. There needs to be a process that ensures that under the garb of national security, legitimate sites don’t get blocked, and this process should be followed whether or not the content is deemed inflammatory or not.
It’s also not clear how many of the blocked pages were social network user/community profiles, and how many were blogs and twitter accounts.