Government Technology

Security and Censorship: India to Clip the Wings of Internet



January 16, 2007 By

India tried it once about six months back but was forced to pull back due to strong protests. Now however, the country's Department of Telecom (DoT), the authority that controls telecommunications, is working on a smart way out of censoring the Internet without attracting a public outcry. And if the DoT can have its way, India may put a stop to Internet telephony services of Yahoo, MSN and Skype among a host of others that are mushrooming in the country.

According to its officials, the DoT has decided to put in place an advance screening system at the bandwidth landing stations in the country that will help the Department to block undesirable websites and blogs.

"A Committee has been formed in December [last year] to examine technical measures for blocking websites that DoT considers undesirable," said an official from the DoT, adding that the committee has the mandate to examine the technical aspect of website blocking, and recommend measures for having URL (universal resource locator) based blocking with internet service providers.

The DoT wants to install the technology at the eight landing stations ? that bring international bandwidth ? in India. "The DoT has already intimated this decision to us, as well as to the security agencies, leading internet service providers (ISPs) and the three telecom companies that who own landing stations," said Rajesh Chharia, president, Internet Service Providers Association of India, "and this technology, will be capable of blocking websites at a sub-domain level, instead of a sweeping shutdown (of an IP address; like yahoo.com)."

"After the system is in place," added Charia, "the DoT can direct the landing stations operators to not only to block a particular URL at the sub-domain level but also VoIP telephony services such Yahoo, MSN and Skype ( and many more) because strictly speaking these have not obtained the required permission to operate VoIP services in India."

The Department, says ISPAI, has already short listed 3 equipment vendors -- Cisco, Juniper and Span Systems -- and have instructed international gateway operators to select their equipment. "In a short while from now," says Charia, "may be in about three to four months, we could see the screening system in place."

Although the issue of censoring the Internet is increasingly emerging as an issue of hot debate among the growing Internet population in India, the system will come as a relief for ISPs who are often instructed to block specific web pages that are politically and socially sensitive.

In December 2003, for instance, when India instructed ISPs to block access to a pro-separatist Yahoo!-hosted discussion group Kyunhun, all Yahoo e-groups became inaccessible in India. In blocking the group's IP address, all other Yahoo! groups were automatically cut off as well. "Blocking of a near invisible website ordered by Indian agencies in the name of national security, is reprehensible enough, but the blocking of an entire domain (groups.yahoo.com) was not justified," says Sivarama Krishnan executive director, Global Risk Management of the consultancy firm, Pricewaterhouse Cooper.

Blocking of individual websites in fact had become an outrageous issue last year in July last year, when, following the terrorist blasts in Mumbai blasts, the DoT had directed ISPs to ban 18 blogs and websites. However, as India ISPs did not possess the technologies needed to execute the directive, the service providers implemented the ban at the domain level. This resulted in a public outcry and international criticism, as users were unable to access scores of websites and blogs.

However, while India says that censoring the Internet is not its intention; "we just want to block unwanted sites that have a bad influence on the country's society and poses security threats," says the DoT, many wonder if the country can really achieve its objectives, even after installing high technology.


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