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According to a report today by writer Violet Blue on zdnet.com, India’s Department of Telecom has recently released a list of 32 websites that the agency will be preventing its citizens from accessing on the internet. While claiming that the Middle Eastern terrorist insurgency called ISIS is the target of these blocks, an ominous doubt creeps into that narrative when one considers the sites listed. Sites such as justpaste.it, hastebin.com, codepad.org, pastie.org, pastee.org, archive.org and pastebin.com all share the common value of hosting material simply and easily, and are often used by quasi-investigative citizens of the internet who have a need to host material such as screen shots in a place that allows them to link the material to social media platform like Reddit and Twitter. An aggressive movement to block sites such as those will undoubtedly face difficult, and possibly justifiable, suspicions of censorship.
The internet often comes as a chaotic mass-personification of the particularly rebellious aspects within the nature of democracy, and as such poses an omnipresent worry to more authoritarian nations such as China. Where mere decades ago, it was a relatively simple matter to keep journalists out of internationally embarrassing instances of brutal repression, modern times make it nearly impossible to hide crimes against humanity, when all that is needed to report them in a form of video journalism is a citizen with a smart phone and access to the internet. To date, North Korea has appeared to be the most successful nation at preventing such inopportune reporting, though recent events which limit the utility provided by the internet, such as China’s universal blocking of Gmail, and India’s blocking of many archival sites, are taking magnificent strides to catch up with the rogue states’ innovations in cruelty, censorship and suppression of opportunity for political dissent.
Further, India’s invocation of terrorism as a raison d’être for intervening in their public’s access to the internet should come as a very familiar occurrence to audiences in the West, where the United States’ government has used a very similar justification to explain their virtual elimination of privacy within America, and what amounts to the persecution of uncomfortable whistle-blowers like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.
In the present day an age, nearly every government on the planet pays at least verbal homage to the principle of the consent of the governed. One of the most important roles played by the internet in the current geopolitical atmosphere is its capacity to help watchdog entities, either in the form of concerned individuals or non-governmental organizations, to both access public records and to broadcast their findings to audiences that are ordinarily only limited to the information by the scope of their personal interest. The list of sites being blocked by India in the article referenced by this one include a number of entries whose material assistance to terrorist activities is incredibly dubious. Archive.org, in particular, fulfills a vital role in preventing the past from disappearing from the internet by archiving sites as they appeared on particular dates, regardless of subsequent alterations. Preventing access to sites such as those certainly begs a series of uncomfortable questions to the intentions of those that seek the blocks.
Opinion by Brian Whittemore
Photo Courtesy of Michael Coghlan – flickr License