Indian Government Blocks GitHub, Vimeo, and Others for Hosting ISIS Content
The Indian government’s Department of Telecom has asked ISPs to block GitHub, Vimeo, SourceForge, and dozens of other popular websites for hosting “Anti India content from ISIS.” Pranesh Prakash, a director at the Centre for Internet and Society, has tweeted a list of 32 blocked URLs. The blocks aren’t entirely consistent among India’s many ISPs, though customers of Vodafone, BSNL, Hathway, and others have confirmed being unable to access the blocked sites.
Censorship in Response to Terrorism
The Department of Telecom issued the notification to ISPs on December 17th, and Pastebin first reported the block on the 19th. Since then, many Indians have reported being unable to access the blocked sites, though confirmation of the blocks only arrived today from Arvind Gupta, head of the Bharatiya Janata political party:
“The websites that have been blocked were based on an advisory by Anti Terrorism Squad, and were carrying Anti India content from ISIS.”
Gupta also stated that websites “that have removed objectionable content and/or cooperated with the ongoing investigations” are being unblocked. However, not all affected websites have been notified by the Indian government. A Vimeo spokesperson told CNN:
“It is Vimeo’s longstanding policy not to allow videos that promote terrorism, and we remove such videos whenever we become aware of them. We have not received notice from the Indian government concerning such videos and have contacted them requesting the blocking order to identify, and evaluate the video in question. It is our hope that Vimeo can be restored promptly in India.”
Many Indians have taken to social media to express outrage over the blanket censorship, arguing against blocking entire domains when only certain user-contributed content may be offensive. An anonymous government official responded to the arguments, offering The Economic Times a statement using Pastebin as an example:
“These are all providing very dangerous kind of cut and paste services..You can take code, cut it, paste it, remove it, delete it…”
As has happened in the past, the Indian government is using the controversial section 69A of the Information Technology Act and the Information Technology (Procedures and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules to issue the blocks. These laws have legalised internet censorship in response to certain cases such as terrorism and copyright infringement. Earlier in June 2014, Google Docs, The Pirate Bay, and over 400 other file sharing websites were blocked following a complaint from Sony Entertainment.
India’s technology industry relies on websites like SourceForge and GitHub, and developers like Thejesh GN, co-founder of DataMeet, have expressed concern over the “lack of transparency where people don’t get to know why their sites were blocked.”
Images from Shutterstock.