Update: The Vodafone representative informs us that the order was for blocking one imgur URL, and the company blocked the entire domain by mistake. That has now been corrected, and only one URL has been blocked. The representative did not respond to a query requesting information on which URL has been blocked.

Earlier today: The Indian government has asked telecom operators and ISPs to block the image sharing site imgur. A Vodafone representative, responding to a query from MediaNama about Imgur not being accessible via Vodafone connections, said that “It has been blocked as per DoT instructions.” DoT is the Department of Telecommunications, which issues blocking instructions to telecom operators and ISPs. We were alerted to this issue via Twitter, and pointed towards a Reddit thread which indicates that some users via Hathway, an ISP. Users on the group also suggest workarounds: imgur can be accessed by replacing ‘imgur’ in the link with filmot. There’s a chrome extension, here, which does this automatically.

Necessary requirements for blocking

Ideally, blocking should be an exception, and not the norm that it has become. Even if blocks are instituted, here’s how it should be done.

Visitors to a blocked website should be informed about:

1. The fact that the website has been blocked: There should be a notice indicating that the website has been blocked. This till ensure that visitors don’t assume that there is a problem with their Internet connection (ISP), with the websites servers or  the DNS.

2. Who has asked for the site to be blocked: This ensures that the identity of someone who has asked for a block is public. This ensures accountability and prevents frivolous complaints, since the individual or company filing the complaint will do so in a responsible manner.

3. Who has issued an order for the site to be blocked: This ensures that the adjudicatory body, whether the Department of Telecom or a court is identified as the entity that has issued the order for blocking. This ensures transparency and enforces accountability.

4. Why the website has been blocked: If my access to a page has been blocked, don’t I deserve to know why? Orders should be public, so that the department, person or a court is forced to explain why something has been blocked. Freedom of expression isn’t just the right to express yourself, but also the right to receive that expression.

5. How a block can be removed: There should be recourse established. If a page has been blocked, as the owner of the site, I should have details of whom to contact, and the process for blocks being removed. At present, that is not the case, and sites like Mobango were blocked in India for months, without knowing why or what they could to do to get blocks removed.

6. A link with a public listing of blocks: This will allow an individual to ensure that the block is legitimate, if the government maintains a public listing of blocking orders. This ensures that telecom operators don’t block pages on their own, without orders from the government or courts. Remember this?

These measures will at least ensure complete transparency. Right now, there is opacity, and this allows CERT-IN and DoT to block whatever they want, without being accountable for it. DoT hasn’t even acknowledged an RTI we filed, for information on blocks that have been done for reasons other than national security. An appeal we subsequently filed has also not been acknowledged.

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To end with, here’s a screenshot of an Imgur page hosting a screenshot of Github being blocked. We’re still trying to confirm this one.

imgur-blocked