How does the Government block a website?

Two bloggers, Abhishek Bakshi and Gautam Bastian, have received responses from the Government regarding the RTI application they had filed seeking explanation about the blogger ban that had cause an uproar in the Indian blogosphere.

A cursory glance at both the documents points to a Gazette notification G.S.R 529(E), that lays down the institutional framework and the process of blocking a website (copy of the Gazette notification is available in the response to Gautam Bastian’s application).

Sections III and IV of the gazette notification have made their points about censorship:

III. As already noted there is no explicit provision in the IT Act 2000 for blocking of websites. In fact, blocking is taken to amount to censorship. Such blocking can be challenged if it amounts to restriction of freedom of speech and expression. But websites promoting hate content, slander or defamation of others, promoting gambling, promoting racism, violence and terrorism and other such material, in addition to promoting pornography, including child pornography, and violent sex can reasonably be blocked since all such websites may not claim constitutional right of free speech. Blocking of such websites may be equated to “balanced flow of information” and not censorship.

IV. The websites promoting the above mentioned types of content, not covered under the Freedom of Speech may need to be blocked under inherent powers of the Government, “to the extent of executive authority read with legal powers vested in Central Government and Controller under various provision of various laws”

Section V goes on to provide the detailed process of blocking a website. For simplicity I have made a rough flow chart of the process. (update: the previous image has been replaced with a new one)

CERT-In

In a nutshell, CERT-In oversees the entire site blocking process. The criterion for blocking a website remains subjective and vague. But then so is the whole issue of censorship.

One good thing came out of the entire exercise though. We now know who is responsible for the blocking a site. So if a fiasco like the blogger block happens, we know who to bash 😀

More stuff:

Sections V-15 and V-16 say:

15. The Director, CERT-In shall maintain complete record, in electronic database as also in paper files/registers, of the cases of blocking of website processed. This database shall be the property of the DIT and shall not be used for any commercial purpose.

16. The Director, CERT-In shall submit a monthly report of the cases of blocking of the website processed in each month, by 7th of next month, (or the next working day if 7th happens to be a holiday) to the Additional Secretary, DIT.

So in other words, Department of Information Technology has records of all the website blocking cases (which may include the names of people who initiated the complaint about the websites).

We can probably file an RTI with the DIT to receive information about the people who issued complaint against those 17 infamous websites that unfortunately led to the blogger block.

[tags]Censorship,CERT-In, Indian Bloggers[/tags]

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