Internet

Government restrictions on websites resonate in Oman

Sites blocked in India were not accessible to users there, reveals study

Restrictions on access to Internet content through government action or court rulings in India seem to have affected not only netizens of the country but also those in faraway Oman.

An investigation by OpenNet Initiative — under the aegis of Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto; the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard University; and the Ottawa-based SecDev Group — revealed that a number of sites ordered to be blocked in India were not accessible to users in Oman too on different days in June when the tests were carried out.

Users in Oman were unable to access many of these sites because Internet traffic from there was being routed in part through one or more Internet Service Providers (ISP) in India, a Citizen Lab research brief said, outlining the scope of the investigation and the results. ISPs in different countries do enter into agreements for routing Internet traffic, but in this case restrictions applicable to one country unusually ended up having a bearing on another.

Even as the authorities in Oman were having Internet content filtered from within, also inaccessible to people in that country were many of the sites that were banned in India — mostly those related to culture and entertainment, including file-sharing sites with links to Bollywood movies and music and blogging platforms or “media/free expression sites.”

Users who tried to access these sites in India might have found the browser returning messages like this: “This website/URL has been blocked until further notice, either pursuant to court orders or on the directions issued by the Department of Telecommunications.”

Variability

There was variability in the results, with some of the sites being rendered open to access from Oman later, possibly because of the alterations in the flow of Internet traffic and the changes in the manner in which sites were being blocked in India, for instance, on the basis of court rulings. It was also possible that filtering was not being “consistently applied at all times, a trend seen in other countries

Jurisdictional questions

Furthermore, this kind of “upstream filtering” raised jurisdictional questions about the “lack of recourse available to users in Oman.” “The application of filters in India restricts Internet users in Oman from accessing content, potentially even content produced in Oman itself, as a result of actions taken for domestic purposes in India. Users in Oman did not consent to this blocking, are left with little recourse for challenging these actions, and have limited means of accessing this content, which may or may not be in violation of Omani regulations,” the brief said.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 12:27:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/internet/government-restrictions-on-websites-resonate-in-oman/article3670273.ece

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