On New Year’s Eve, the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team officially banned any website hosting ISIS content. The ban requires broadband companies to block sites with such content, as dictated by the Director of the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, Pranesh Prakash. One of the country’s top IT officials, Arvind Gupta of the Bharatiya Janata Party, posted on Twitter that the sites “were carrying Anti India content from ISIS”.
Of the many blocked sites, The Internet Archive is included, a source of storing web pages in cached files—which ultimately lets users tap into old or removed content. The Team hasn’t responded to media inquiries, and hasn’t said whether or not web hosts in-country or around the world are being blocked from usage, or if it’s “just” websites.
A Wide Reach
However, critics are claiming that it’s not only ISIS-centric sites that are being banned, but also general sites like GitHub and Pastebin that thousands of people use to chat anonymously. Pastebin is well known as the beloved tool of the Sony hackers, while sites like Vimeo and Dailymotion were also blocked—supposedly for hosting ISIS videos. Somehow YouTube made the cut, perhaps because Google has been fast acting when it comes to removing ISIS content.
According to a Vimeo spokesperson, “It is Vimeo’s longstanding policy not to allow videos that promote terrorism, and we remove such videos whenever we become aware of them. We have not received notice from the Indian government concerning such videos and have contacted them requesting the blocking order to identify, and evaluate, the video in question. It is our hope that Vimeo can be restored promptly in India” However, that promise wasn’t enough to keep Vimeo in India’s good graces during the mass banning initially.
The Big Homecoming
Just 24 hours after the initial ban, some sites were already back in India reports the Communications and IT Ministry. Vimeo did indeed get restored, as did Dailymotion and GitHub. According to Gupta, “The sites that have removed objectionable content and/or cooperated with the ongoing investigations are being unblocked.” Of course, censorship on the internet is nothing new in India. Plus, with Google releasing the transparency report in December, pointing out thousands of requests from governments to remove links on YouTube that are “inappropriate”, getting on the chopping block in India isn’t very challenging.
However, even stricter than India when it comes to internet censorship is China and the “Great Firewall”. The majority of Chinese residents can’t even access sites like Facebook, which has helped spurned the creation of popular alternatives for residents and citizens. Will India face another mass banning before the year’s end? Critics and experts think it’s likely, but the history of censorship in India suggests that these “clean sweeps” don’t last for long.
As for ISIS, the organization has kept quiet during the country-wide ban. A number of the banned sites refused to comment at all, perhaps out of fear of bad publicity or simply because they knew the ban wouldn’t last for long. Now one week into 2015, the most popular banned sites are already restored and more continue to pass muster each day.