Pastebin access restored in India: No explanation for government web censorship

The Indian government's internet block on 32 websites, affecting nearly 300 million citizens, has now been lifted on Pastebin but India still blocks 27 other sites, including Internet Archive.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor

Pastebin tells ZDNet that the Indian government's wide-ranging internet block, which had included the site, has been removed and Indian citizens are again able to access Pastebin -- but 27 sites still remain banned under the order.

According to Pastebin's statement to ZDNet, there is still no verifiable explanation for India's government-ordered internet censorship.

Pastebin tells us that its experience in both dealing with India's officials, and India's allegations of Pastebin hosting 'Jihadi Propaganda' content, starkly contrast India's official statements on the matter.

Pastebin told ZDNet via email, "After some digging around and asking for help on Twitter, we were pointed towards the Indian CERT team (Indian Computer Emergency Response Team).

"We contacted them directly, and they told us Pastebin was being used by people not only inside India, but also outside of India to post objectionable information."

The reasoning behind by India's DoT (Department of Telecom) block on 32 websites for alleged "Jihadi Propaganda" still appears unfounded, though the block has been lifted on five sites including gist.github, Vimeo, Weebly and Dailymotion, along with Pastebin.

However, when Pastebin asked what content needed to be removed, Pastebin wasn't told to remove anything.

Pastebin said,

They say they tried to each out to us first, but were not able to find any correct contact information. This is a little strange, as we have a link to our contact page in the footer of every page page on Pastebin.

We asked if there was any particular content that had to be removed right now, but this wasn't the case.

We made it clear that Pastebin always complies with removal requests, and that we take such requests very seriously. And that there are 2 ways to get content removed. One via email and via our on-site report system.

The last message we received back was "Process to access the website has been initiated.". This was 2 days ago.

Internet Archive, Cryptbin, Codepad, and curiously, sourceforge.net/projects/phorkie and many others are still banned in the country.

ZDNet's call to Internet Archive was not returned by time of publication, and we will update this article with IA's status or statement accordingly.

Pastebin's access has quietly been restored in the meantime.

Pastebin explained,

We have been in contact with people from India who previously reported that the site was inaccessible, and so far they have all confirmed that they have access again. So it seems fully access has been restored.

It is possible that some users might still be on old DNS settings, which have remained cached, so for them it's best to flush their DNS cache, or to simply wait a little longer.

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.

When public and press began to make noise about the block on December 31, Arvind Gupta, the national head of Indian political party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), stated 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 also said, "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 as an example -- though ZDNet contacted Vimeo at that time and, like Pastebin, Vimeo confirmed it had not been contacted by (nor was it in any way working with) the Indian government.

India's DoT 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.

The experience of blocked websites Pastebin, Vimeo, Internet Archive, GitHub and Snipt still contradict Mr. Gupta's official [Twitter] statement.

When India quietly lifted the block on gist.github, Vimeo, Weebly and Dailymotion last week, The Press Information Bureau, Government of India had 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.

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 with 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).

Indian citizens furious about the block and its implications regarding censorship and the impact on India's software development sector are still raging on Twitter under the hashtag #GOIblocks.

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