Tipped by ATS about “anti-India content from ISIS. Many question why some open source-based collaborative software development sites have been blocked
After the Bangalore case of Mehdi Masroor Biswas, the alleged handler of the pro-Islamic State (IS) Twitter account, the government seems to be tightening noose around all suspicious internet websites based on intelligence from security agencies in the country. The latest to come under its scanner are 32 websites, which have been ordered by the department of information technology to be blocked under Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 and the IT (Procedure and safeguards for blocking of access of information by public) Rules, 2009.Arvind Gupta, the head of Bharatiya Janata Party’s national IT cell, tweeted that these sites on the Net, including vimeo, github, sourceforge and others, have been found carrying “objectionable content” and so directed to be blocked by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on security grounds. “The websites that have been blocked were based on an advisory by Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), and were carrying anti-India content from ISIS (Islamic States of Iraq and Syria). The sites that have been removed objectionable content and/or cooperated with the ongoing investigations are being unblocked,” BJP party’s IT cell head tweeted.An IT department’s note sent out to the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) orders them to “immediately block the access” to all 32 URLs. Its dictate is reminiscence of the previous government’s similar move where it blocked over 200 websites in a day last year. It led to massive outcry against “censorship of the Internet” and resulted in the UPA government backtracking on it. Though, after the Bangalore incident, the sentiment on the Net governance is different today. Som Mittal, former president of IT lobby body National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), believes Internet needs to be governed to a certain extend if it is being used for “unintended purposes”. “You saw what happened recently on the Twitter (referring to Bangalore case). Internet is a powerful (internet) tool and can be misused to spread sentiments that could be harmful for impressionable users. We should censor only when the freedom (on the Net) is misused (for such purposes). The government should then step in,” he said. However, he feels that what happened in China during the Hong Kong protest was “clearly censorship”. “What we are advocating is self-governance of the Net,” said the former Nasscom chief. G Krishna, a senior IT professional based in Bangalore, is also of the view that government has all the right to block websites. “In fact, countries like US, Germany and Japan have clear Internet censorship guidelines. India is much better than China where thousands of websites are blocked including most popular ones like Facebook, Youtube, etc,” he said.In the current context of blocking 32 websites, however, he said it was not clear why websites like github or sourceforge, which are sites meant for open source based collaborative software development, have been blocked. “Instead of blocking a website, can the government enforce strict checks and balances to these website or content providers so that only specific accounts can be blocked?” asked Krishna.