Internet censorship- Is blocking the right approach?

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The decision of the government to block 32 URLs has become a subject matter of debate and the question being asked is blocking the right way to go.

Should the government be taking down websites or web pages? Should the government be acting against the intermediaries or should it block websites as a whole? These are a few points that need to be debated and to speak with oneindia is Cyber Law expert, Pawan Duggal.

Internet censorship-Does locking help?

India cannot replicate China:

Internet censorship in China is the most rigid and is known as the Great Firewall of China. However can India replicate this? The answer is no as India by and large represents two models of government. The vibrant constitution of India does not let the internet laws be that rigid.

Part (3) of the Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all citizens. It includes freedom of speech and expression. The right to have a website and say something is an intergral part of the Fundamental Right enshrined under Article 19(1) of the Constitiution.

Rights subject to reasonable restrictions:

However unlike the other fundamental rights, the right on the internet is not absolute and is subject to certain reasonable restrictions. This is in the interest of sovereignty, friendly relations, intergirty and public order to prevent a commission of offence.

Blocking is done part of the reasonable restrictions which are enshrined under Section 69 (A) of the Information Technology Act of 2000.

Why were the 32 URL’s blocked?

I have no idea why this notification blocking the 32 URLs were issued in the first place. There are two sites in particular which draw my attention. The blocking of in particular and Vimeo. The circular does not give a rationale for blocking but makes the blocking blanket in nature.

I am guessing that it could be due to objectionable material on these sites or someone may have approached the court seeking a directive to block these sites.

However today’s courts are extremely tech savvy and do not normally allow complete websites to be blocked. The orders of blocking by the courts normally pertain to just blocking a specific web page to be blocked.

Blocking is outdated:

Blocking as phenomenon is already outdated given the various options that are there on the internet. First and foremost it is possible to access any blocked website. So much so that it effectively helps in doubling the internet traffic to the blocked website.

Blocking by and large have been failures and we need to come out with more innovative approaches and not take the traditional 19th century view. New paradigms have made blocking difficult to sustain. Moreover blocking has its disadvantage. Blocking a site without notifying the owner of the site leads to arbitrariness.

Need to focus on the bigger challenge:

I think government needs to focus on bigger challenges like the dark net where cyber crime as an economy is prospering. We need to take a call that we should not be seen to be intolerant. Fighting specific targets is always a better option because it becomes even pertinent in the fight against pornography. We need to target specific targets like child pornography.

Also lot of times the ISPs do not have the wherewithal and tools to block specific web pages and hence end up blocking the complete website. I think a lot of people see blocking as online censorship but it is very ineffective online censorship and serves the purpose of propagating the blocked content.

Go after intermediaries:

The government ought to implement the law against intermediaries strongly instead. Under Section 79 of the IT Act of 2000 intermediaries are mandated to exercise due diligence while discharging their obligations.

If we could go ahead and impress upon intermediaries and ask them to comply with the laws which includes obligation to take down certain content on being notified by the government or any affected person blocking could be avoided.


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