Update: Looks like the Indian government wants a geography specific kill switch for social networking or rather any website that it wants to block. According to a report by The Economic Times, the government has asked ISPs and telecom service providers to build embedded technologies allowing it block websites in specific regions or states. The development follows the exodus of citizens from the North Eastern states from cities like Bangalore and Pune, among others, after the spread of rumours, for which the government blamed social networks and SMS, and blocked certain websites, social network accounts and restricted SMS.

The ET report cites a senior home ministry official to confirm the development and adds that the government had asked ISPs and telcos to block Twitter in eight states, namely Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. However, the telcos had responded that they could only block sites nationally and that they did not have the technology required to implement selective state-wise blocking of websites.

According to another report, the government had issued the directive to ISPs including BSNL, Tata Communications, Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular, Reliance Communications, and to the Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI).  However, they reverted expressing their inability in blocking traffic selectively. Telcos do not allott IP addresses on a state-wise basis, and have a small number of gateways through which cyber traffic originates and terminates. The government’s demand would imply that they’d need to have a large number of gateways and allott IP addresses state-wise, which could have an impact on the cost of internet services.

– Why not use the same medium to reach out? We fail to understand why the government feels that putting a ban on the medium would solve the problem caused by a message spread by a few miscreants. It could have used the same medium to nullify rumours, build trust and offer help.

– Lack of transparency: Also, selective blocking of social networks might lead to more outrage and panic, and if ever the state resorts to online censorship, we feel that there should be transparency, with citizens being made aware of the situation instead of arbitrary blocking/banning websites.

– State govts. to control the internet? What this also means is that state governments would be able to control the internet directing ISPs to block full websites, selected pages, based on what they feel might create problems. This could also mean that they would be able to silence anyone raising a voice against them.

– Bypassing not difficult: Of course there are other ways of accessing blocked sites including VPN services, and anonymous browsing tools, so it’s not exactly a fool-proof way. But not everyone is aware of these tools.

By Anupam Saxena

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7th September 2012: Indian Govt To Send Legal Notices Over Inflammatory Messages On Social Networks

India’s Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde and director of the Intelligence Bureau, Nehchal Sandhu, have announced that the government will be taking measures to tighten cyber security, and as a part of this, it has begun sending legal notices to those who allegedly posted inflammatory messages and morphed images related to ethnic violence in Assam on social networking websites, reports
Livemint.

The report adds that the government may register a case against individuals found guilty of posting inflammatory messages on social networking websites such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, and will be sending out legal notices to the identified individuals. The government has also written to Google and Facebook for details of accounts that hosted such anti-social information, and were among the blocked webpages. Currently, the government has already sent out legal notice to four people who have been identified sending out allegedly inflammatory messages on the micro-social networking site, Twitter.

According to Pranesh Prakash of the Center for Internet and Society, 33% of these inflammatory messages were on Facebook, 28% on Google’s YouTube, and around 10% on Twitter. However, it should be noted that social networking sites are immune to any such allegations under the IT Act (.pdf) as they do not post content on their own.

Sushil Kumar Shinde also said that the cyber-space has become another tool in the hands of terrorists who post motivated rumors in social networking sites thereby creating a new challenge to the security forces in the country, as reported by DNA. However, it’s interesting to note that the union minister did not talk of any action against Pakistan as it had earlier pointed towards the involvement of a neighboring country (Pakistan).

Events timeline

– On September 6, the Delhi High Court refused to entertain a Public Interest Litigation for quashing the Indian Government’s notifications of blocking web pages, including those of Facebook, Google and Twitter, for hosting inflammatory contents, triggering panic among north east states.

– On August 30,  the Home Minister officially withdrew the ban on bulk SMSes and MMSs.

– On August 21, The Indian government 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.

– On August 17, 2012, the Ministry of Home affairs had banned bulk SMS and MMS for a period of 15 days.

By Apurva Chaudhary