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Indian Govt Looking To Plug https Workaround For Website Blocking

(With inputs from Nikhil Pahwa)

The Indian government appears to be looking to address one of the many workarounds for website blocking, it appears: Business Standard reports that they’re planning to summon Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to look into the blocking of over 500 url’s that they haven’t been able to block, because the sites have either secure-encrypted headers, or were sourced from multiple locations through content delivery networks.

We’re not sure of why there might be an issue in blocking websites delivered through content delivery networks, but the rationale behind not blocking https websites is quite simple: orders for blocking of websites, at least from what we’ve seen, are typically for http URLs, not https URLs, and the approval, at least when it comes from the court, is typically for one of the two. Usually, when an http link is blocked, users can use https to access it, even if the site doesn’t have encryption.

It’s worth noting that while the government appears to be focusing on blocking websites and URLs, there appears to be no focus on increasing transparency. Parts of the web are being blocked for Indians, and we don’t know what all has been blocked, why it’s been blocked, and if your site has been blocked, you won’t know how to get that block removed. The lack of transparency is worrying, authoritarian, and is a situation that is rife for misuse.

Recent Government’s Internet Blocks: Recently, Care.org, the website of the non-profit organisation has been blocked by two ISPs, Vodafone (Bangalore) and Spectranet. There was no particular reason mentioned to block this non-profit organisation’s website. Similarly in March 2013, a wedding photographer’s album was also blocked by DoT. Prior to that, on court order, 55 URLs related to Afzal Guru, (who was hanged in Februrary 2013) and 73 URLs with IIPM content were blocked by ISPs. Government was on a similar roll even in 2012 when 104 music websites245 pages of inflammatory and hateful content against North Eastern ethnic community, Twitter accounts of several journalists, among others, were blocked.

It seems that these instances of blocking websites has steadily been on the rise since 2011 reaching its peak with the current attempt to block 500 websites in one go. In the past, as a member of a Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) on Internet Governance set up by FICCI, we had also made recommendations on India’s IT Rules especially with respect to transparency in DoT’s order to block websites. However, no action has been taken with respect to making these blocks more transparent.

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