India lifts block on Vimeo; Pastebin, Internet Archive, others still banned

The Indian government's internet block on 32 websites, affecting nearly 300 million citizens, was lifted on four websites but still blocks Pastebin, Internet Archive, and others for allegedly hosting terrorist content.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor
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The Indian government's sweeping block on websites alleged to host terrorist content has been lifted on gist.github, Vimeo, Weebly and Dailymotion -- but 28 sites still remain banned under the order.

The block on 32 websites for alleged "Jihadi Propaganda" included the four sites along with Pastebin, Internet Archive, Weebly and many others still banned in the country.

The block affects at least 290 million Indian citizens -- a total approaching the population of the United States (316 million).

India's Ministry of Communication and Information Technology issued a statement saying that the block has been lifted. Vimeo responded, telling ZDNet, "We're grateful for this decision and we look forward to having access to Vimeo restored in India soon."

India's DoT (Department of Telecom) issued an order December 17th to ban 32 websites, which took effect unevenly this week across various telecoms and ISPs, stemming from a Director General of Police, Anti Terrorism Squad (M.S. Mumbai) request first filed on November 10.

In addition to saying the block on four sites was lifted, the release from The Press Information Bureau, Government of India said:

It was stated that Anti National group are using social media for mentoring Indian youths to join the Jihadi activities.

(...) Many of these wbsites [SIC] does not require any authentication for pasting any material on them. Other upload articles, Videos or photos or to download the contents which helps to hide the identities. These websites were being used frequently for pasting, communicating such content by just changing page name even blocking the earlier one.

(...) Contact has also been made with some of the websites. These websites have undertaken not to allow pasting of such propaganda information on their website and also work with the Govt. to remove such material as per the compliance with the laws of land.

Indian citizens furious about the block are taking to Twitter under the hashtag #GOIblocks, calling out India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a hypocrite on the matter:

Among the 28 websites still blocked for Indian internet users are Pastebin, Internet Archive, Cryptbin, Codepad, and curiously, sourceforge.net/projects/phorkie.

The Anonymous OpIndia contingent has threatened to take action against the Indian government if the blocks aren't completely lifted.

News of the block began to materialize December 31 when Centre for Internet and Society (Bangalore, India) Policy Director Pranesh Prakash Tweeted a copy of the notice listing the 32 blocked URLs.

Insane! Govt orders blocking of 32 websites including @internetarchive @vimeo @github @pastebin #censorship #FoEx pic.twitter.com/F75ngSGohJ

-- Pranesh Prakash (@pranesh_prakash) December 31, 2014

After Mr. Prakah's tweet went slightly viral, Arvind Gupta, the national head of Indian political party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), announced on Twitter that "The websites that have been blocked were based on an advisory by Anti Terrorism Squad, and were carrying Anti India content from ISIS."

Gupta added, "The sites that have removed objectionable content and/or cooperated with the on going investigations, are being unblocked."

Mr. Gupta then re-tweeted a user whose access to Vimeo had been restored -- though this was still news to Vimeo, who was unaware of the restoration.

The experience of blocked websites Vimeo, Internet Archive, GitHub and Snipt contradicted Mr. Gupta's statement, though he told Quartz he was speaking officially at the time.

@pranesh_prakash @Vimeo @github @pastebin We've received many complaints from people in India who can't access http://t.co/rvOhn0KKJQ.

-- Internet Archive (@internetarchive) December 31, 2014

Pastebin is still blocked in India. We are getting many reports about this. The Indian government has blocked us,... http://t.co/6jqnHcgtIP

-- Pastebin.com (@pastebin) December 26, 2014

When reached for comment at that time, Vimeo told ZDNet that while it does immediately respond to remove terrorist materials, it had not been contacted by, nor was Vimeo working with, the Indian government about this matter.

The block's sweeping list includes a project of one specific user -- sourceforge.net/projects/phorkie/ -- University of Leipzig student Christian Weiske.

Mr. Weiske angrily posted about the block of his 'git based pastebin software' called phorkie, saying, "The question is now why the phorkie software is blocked, too? It is only software, not even a public installation that everyone can use to publish content. (...)"

He added,

The sourceforge phorkie project page does not allow pasting any content. I guess the results of an overly broad internet search were simply dumped into the court order request. As always.

I also have to say that I was not informed by anyone of the Indian government (or other official authorities) about the phorkie homepage being blocked. I also have no idea what to do to get unblocked.

He's not the only one feeling burned by the extremely problematic block.

It's clear that despite the lift on four of the more visible websites, India's internet censorship is now a problem -- and not just for the blocked websites, or India's software development sector.

Meanwhile, Redditors continue discussing the blocks (and how to get around them) on various Reddit threads confirming that some of the listed sites have been blocked by Vodafone, BSNL, ACT Fibrenet, Hathway Cable & Datacom LTD. (Bangalore), among others.

Vodafone India is the second largest mobile network operator in India (after Airtel) with an estimated 173 million customers. BNSL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited) is an Indian state-owned telco witha a customer base of 117 million. ACT Fibrenet is a broadband provider claiming one million subscribers; Hathway Cable & Datacom LTD. provides cable internet and serves approximately 11 million customers (with 430,000 estimated to use its broadband ISP).

Combining only two of the affected operators (Vodafone and BNSL), the block affects at least 290 million Indian citizens.

Adding other Indian ISPs and mobile operators is likely to bring India's total for internet-censored citizenry to equal the population of the United States (316 million as of 2013).

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