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Indian Web users decry the "gag" on blogs

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Websites blocked by Government on Tuesday.
Websites blocked by Government on Tuesday.

Anand Parthasarathy

Internet Service Providers cite Government directives

Seen as a bid to snap the communication lines of extremist groups Sites can still be accessed by burrowing through third party tunnelsBloggers irate that even public service blogs are inaccessible now

Bangalore: Thousands of Internet users in India have been unable to access blogs (or Web logs) since the weekend.

Throughout Monday, angry customers of almost all major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country exchanged mails and flooded user group sites with postings to report that blogs, created using the free space provided by Web services like Geocities, Typepad and Blogspot (a Google initiative), could not be opened. Many were told that the blog sites had been blocked in response to a directive from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

Reporting the gag

The Indian portal, Rediff.com http://rediff.com/ was the first to report the trend on Sunday, quoting a Gurgaon teacher, Mridula Dwivedi, who had discovered the anomaly while trying to visit Blogsite.com http://blogsite.com/blog. Since then, other bloggers established that the "cyber gag" had emanated from a communication from the Central Government on July 13 to all the ISPs, listing some 20 odd sites mostly blogs which were to be blocked forthwith.

Coming within days of the Mumbai train blasts, this was seen to be a belated attempt to cut off the lines of communication of extremist groups who might be spreading inflammatory or anti-national messages.

But instead of blocking those specific Web addresses, most service providers seem to have taken the easier way out: they have shut off wholesale all major blogging sites, thereby affecting thousands of lay bloggers whose

postings were innocuous.

What has enraged most bloggers is that public service blogs like `Mumbaihelp,' part of Blogspot, which had done sterling service by acting as a clearing house for anxious friends trying to trace missing persons in Mumbai, has also been rendered inaccessible.

Ham handed action

The Information Technology Act of 2000 has created a body called Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) to oversee Indian Net security and "ensure balanced flow of information." Any directive to block a particular web site must originate from CERT but till late on Tuesday, neither its own web site nor that of the Ministry of Communications had taken note of the

swelling Indian and international Net comment on what is being seen as a ham handed action.

Ironically, blocking blogs or web sites in this fashion is now understood worldwide to be a futile exercise: the same sites can be accessed by burrowing through third party `tunnels.'

Public spirited Indian netizens have already organised themselves into a Bloggers' Collective and provided links to a `Bypassing the Ban' page where one can access the same Mumbaihelp blog by going through a service called pkblogs.

Decision "not feasible"

Many experts in India are also questioning the rationale behind trying to block access selectively to web sites. Speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Chennai on Tuesday, NASSCOM President Kiran Karnik, told PTI that the Centre's decision to block out some blogsites was "neither desirable not feasible."

Speaking to The Hindu from Delhi, Prasanto K. Roy, President and Chief Editor of the Dataquest Group and the doyen of the Indian Information Technology media, said the Government's attempt was "stupid and ill advised." "Such gags never work. People in the DoT, who seemed to have set this in motion have worked in a half-baked way, without understanding the technical issues. In any case, we are not China and should not even be trying to police the Internet."


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