The Fallacy of Internet Censorship in India

11 06 2007

Last night, I was walking by the TV at home when my aunt flipped the channel to NDTV, where Bharka Dutt was hosting her weekly “We The People” show. The topic was on whether the authoritiets should start banning sites like Orkut and such. Now, digressing a little bit, I personally can’t stand Bharka Dutt. I think she has a mistaken view that to be a good journalist you need to loud, brash, rude, and impertinent. Ok, you want to get to the hard truth. But, you don’t need to be uncouth about it. Sadly, thats what most TV journalists in India think. But, getting back to Bharka, the word “rabid” keeps coming back to my mind whenever I happen to be exposed to her shows. She has this absolutely horrible habit of cutting people off mid-sentence, then twisting their words, well whatever they got out, to fit her viewpoints. Hardly what you would call letting the public express their views. People like Bharka ought to be more aware of their influence on society and try and set a better example for those budding journalists out there. End of mini-rant. Back to the main rant.

Getting back to the show, I started watching a little bit because quite a few people were complaining about how the Internet promotes negative activities, and how steps need to be taken at policing the internet, and protecting kids. In a nutshell, the whole complaint boils down to, “The Government is not taking sufficient steps to safeguarding my kids on the Internet”. I’ve got one question to all these whiners. “Just what do you want the government to do?”

The Internet is a juggernaut with over 1 trillion webpages, and with thousands, nay millions of pages being published daily. It spans the globe and in reality is a world of its own. Just how the heck does a single Government police this? How do you sift through all these pages and say “This is good, so let people see it!” or “This is Bad! So block access!”? I can publish a website, call it the “The Mahatma Gandhi Internet Memorial”, but actually use it peddle pornography. All the text could be about Gandhi, but all the images could be porn. Or even more effectively, use a Flash website to display all the images and still have the search engines and filters think its a site about Gandhi. How would the Government be able to stop that? They can block the domain, but I can relaunch the site under another domain. How can the Government effectively shut me down if I’m willing to relaunch it again and again under different domain names? It can’t.

Let’s examine the argument of how sites like Orkut are corrupting the moral fibre of India’s youth. I’ve been using Orkut for a while now. I find it a great way to keep in touch with old friends, and get in touch with new ones. Yes, some people have abused the service, but by and large it serves a great purpose of letting me be in touch with my friends. I don’t “misuse” the service by patronizing the “call-girl” communities and such, nor do I abuse people [not intentionally anyway]. So, why should I be denied this service just cause a small section of the people on the site use it in a distasteful manner?

The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech but places “reasonable restrictions” “in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or public order or morality.” Fine, illegal stuff shouldn’t be accessible. But, when I use the site in a completely legitimate and legal manner, is it right that I be denied access to the service? Just because someone else objects to it, does the Government have the right to deny my accessing that site? What happens if I don’t find the content objectionable, but someone else does? Who defines the standards of morality? My moral values can be quite different for the next person. Is it right for someone else to impose their views on me? Don’t I have a right to choose? According to some people. No! These people want the government to ban all sites that are used to promote “negative”, “anti-social” activities, even if its done by 1 or 2 among a million users.

Ha! What a lark! I don’t think that the Indian Government can be trusted, nor is it in a position to, to objectively define standards for Internet viewership in India. Nothing illustrates this better than what happened last year when the Indian government blocked access to all blogs on sites like, and, for a week, when the order was actually against 17 specific blogs. The idiots in the Department of Telecommunications decided that since 17 blogs are bad, all blogs are bad, and since they were told to block the bad blogs, they decided to block all blogs. Actually, it was even more stupid than that.

Rather than type:

they decided it would easier to do:
block *
block *

Those downright lazy bastards sitting in various ISPs didn’t realize that by doing the latter they’d blocked ALL sites under those domains. Net result, 60,000 Indian blogs were shutdown, rather than just 17. In response, our bloggers “rebelled” [I can’t think of a more appropriate term, but it does seem a bit much] against the order, and bombarded the DOT, questioning why their sites were blocked, until out of sheer exasperation the DOT rescinded the order and specifically blocked access to the original 17 sites. If they had done that in the first case, it wouldn’t have blown up in the Government’s face.

But more than governmental incompetence, I feel the whole crux of the matter is the level of ignorance that Indians seem to have when it comes the Internet. They don’t seem to really that it’s not a physical entity, but more ethereal than anything else. It’s not something that can be turned off with the flick of a switch. You can deny access to it, but it will still exist. If the government starts getting involved in filtering and such, then they have to power to define what to filter, thereby controlling what we can or can’t see on a larger scale, including news, political viewpoints, etc. If thats the case, then we might as well go for the full shebang and let the powers that be dictate what we eat, what we wear, what we drive, what we see, what we think. It’ll be just like George Orwell’s “1984”, only 23 years later on. It’s whats happening in places like China, Singapore, and Dubai today.

I know you think its a tad reactionary, but people need to wake up. You can’t expect the government to enforce your personal viewpoints. How does the government cater to 1.3 billion viewpoints then? It’s impossible. If people care so much about protecting their families from the “evils” of the Internet, then maybe they should start working on solutions from home. They should educate their kids on the negatives aspects of the Internet, and encourage them to adhere to the “house rules”. For those of you who don’t trust your kids to listen to your “advice”, you might also look into restricting the internet access by installing parental filters and such. There are tons of resources on the Internet to instruct you on how to restrict access to parts of the Internet, ironic as it is. Or, if you’re one of those extreme parents, deny them access to computers. They’re your kids after all.

In fact, the whole bloody value of the Internet is that there’s so much information out there, that there’s guaranteed to be something there for everyone. The downside is that due to its vastness, there’s bound to be stuff that you find objectionable. But what you find objectionable may not be what your next door neighbour finds distasteful. For example, say your next door neighbour buys a dog, but you hate dogs. Can you ask the government to ban dogs just cause you hate dogs? No, but you can prevent the dog from coming anywhere on your property by building a fence around your home. This is the same case with Internet. Use filters and other parental control software to block access to content you don’t approve of from your home computer. That way, you prevent your household members from accessing it. Let your neighbour do what he likes. As long as it doesn’t enter your home, it shouldn’t bother you. Besides you can’t control anything thats outside of your purview anyway, and the sooner people realize that the better off we all will be.

For those of you interested in more technical details about how to implement these kinds of parental filters, do let me know. I’ll put up a technical walk-through on how to go about this shortly.




One response

11 06 2007

They (SS) just hungry for publicity, this is such a bad move.

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