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#IndiaBlocks: India’s IT Dept’s Response To RTI Requests On Internet Blocking

Update: CIS India has published a list of the 11 links which the Department of Information Technology has had blocked. Bear in mind that other departments (for example, the Home Ministry) may have also requested blocks. Meanwhile, judging from the comments to this post, some ISPs are still blocking access to the sites mentioned. Something fishy – the DIT says they’ve not asked ISPs to block, but given that this is across ISPs, it’s unlikely that they’ve not received orders to block. Also, the DoT had also denied asking for the block. The 11 links blocked:

(a) www.zone.h.org (ED: Blocked by MTNL Delhi)
(b) http://donotdial100.webs.com (IP (ED: Blocked by MTNL Delhi)
(c) www.bloggernews.net/124029 (ED: Criticising Zone-H. Looks like a censorship/Freedom of speech issue. Works on MTNL, Delhi)
(d) http://www.google.co.in/#h1=en&source=hp&biw=1276&bih=843&=dr+babasaheb+ambedkar+wallpaper&aq=4&aqi=g10&aql=&oq=dr+babas&gs_rfai=&fp=e791fe993fa412ba (ED: Blocked by MTNL Delhi)
(e) http://www.cinemahd.net/desktop-enhancements/wallpaper/23945-wallpapers-beautiful-girl-wallpaper.html (ED: Blocked by MTNL Delhi)
(f) http://www.chakpak.com/find/images/kamasutra-hindi-movie (is a Canaan Partners funded website; page blocked by MTNL Delhi)
(g) http://www.submitlink.khatana.net/2010/09/jennifer-stano-is-engaged-to.html (ED: Blocked by MTNL Delhi)
(h) http://www.result.khatana.net/2010/11/im-no-panty-girl-yana-gupta-wardrobe.html (ED: Blocked by MTNL Delhi)
(i) http://www.facebook.com/pages/l-Hate-Ambedkar/172025102828076 (ED: Redirects to Facebook homepage)
(j) www.indybay.org (ED: Blocked by MTNL Delhi)
(k) www.arizona.indymedia.org (ED: Blocked by MTNL Delhi)

Earlier today: We’ve just received a response to a Right To Information request that we had filed with India’s Department of Information Technology (DIT), seeking information on blocking of information on the Internet in India. As you may recall, blogs hosted on Typepad, a mobile applications market Mobango, a bulk SMS provider Clickatell, and a hacking related portal Zone-H.com had been blocked. Some of our readers sent us screenshots of notices put up by ISPs, that read “This site has been blocked as per instructions from Department of Telecom (DOT)”

The response we’ve received (below) from from the IT Department is low on detail, though to be honest, we could have framed our questions better. The DIT’s response states the following:

– The Department of IT did not order Airtel to block Typepad, Mobango. Our take: Note that it has not been clarified whether the blocks were instituted on request of any other department.
– The Designated Officer received 21 requests for blocking of information. 11 websites have been blocked based on the order of the court, one has been rejected. Our take: We’re expecting more information on the blocks instituted from the Nodal Officer, though we’re not very optimistic about this.
– The Department received one court order to block a page on Facebook.com and the order has been complied with. Our take: It doesn’t mention whether there were requests apart from court orders.

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We’re filing another RTI request tomorrow. In case you’d like to help us frame our questions better, please email nikhil@medianama.com today. We’re not very familiar with the way the government works.

Current status

Four days ago, Seema Sapra informed us that she was unable to access an IP and law blog – International Economic Law and Policy Blog, hosted on Typepad. Tarun Dua, who had helped us with information on the block initially, sent is screenshots a couple of weeks ago, indicating that the Typepad, Mobango, sites were still inaccessible. Now he can access all sites, except Clickatell.com. Please try International Economic Law and Policy Blog (Typepad), Mobango.com, Clickatell.com, Zone-H are accessible. Please mention your city and ISP.

Note that:

IT Minister Kabil Sibal had passed the buck to the Home Ministry
Minister of State for IT, Sachin Pilot, told me on the sidelines of the India Today Conclave, and my colleague Anupam Saxena on the sidelines of Convergence India, that a decision would be taken on India’s draconian Draft Intermediary Guidelines, after the Parliament session is over. The parliament session is over. Pilot also told me that blogs wouldn’t be blocked, but it appeared he was just trying to get away from an uncomfortable question.

It’s odd that sites could have been blocked by so many ISPs without a directive from the Indian government (at least, that’s what they’re claiming). However, there is no doubt that sites were blocked – we have screenshots. What is stranger that just before this RTI response was sent to us, the blocks on Typepad blogs (specific blogs, not www.typepad.com) and Mobango appears to have been removed. Are there such things as ‘unofficial orders’?

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MediaNama’s RTI request (with help from CIS India), with answers in-line:

We’ve observed that multiple Internet Service Providers in India, including BSNL, MTNL, Airtel Broadband Services and Reliance Communications selectively blocked access to a blog host called TypePad (http://www.typepad.com), a mobile applications company Mobango (www.mobango.com), a bulk SMS provider called Clickatell (www.clickatell.com), a comics site called Kirtu (www.kirtu.com), and a hacking information site calle Zone-H (www.zone-h.com) for many geographies (though not all), across the country. In this regard, we request information on the following queries under the Right to Information Act, 2005:

i. Did the Department order Airtel to block TypePad, Mobango under any law for the time being in force? If so, please provide a copy of such order or orders. If not, what action, if at all, has been taken by the Department against the ISPs for the blocking of these websites?

Reply: This Department did not order Airtel to block Typepad, Mobango

ii. How many requests for blocking of information has the Designated Officer for blocking websites have been received, and how many of those requests have been accepted and how many rejected?

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Reply: During the period March 2010-March 2011, Designated Officer received 21 requests for blocking of information. 11 websites have been blocked based on the order of the court, one has been rejected. For other requests, additional input/information has been sought from the Nodal Officer.

iii. How many requests have the Department of Telecom, Department of Information Technology and/or the Designated officer and/or CERT-in made to Facebook.com and Orkut.com for removal of content and/or communities on these sites. Please provide us with a copy of such order or orders. How many of these orders have been complied with?

Reply: This Department got one court order to block a page on Facebook.com and the order has been complied with.

4. Years to which the above requests pertain:

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Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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