NEW DELHI: A consequence of the Supreme Court’s order on Internet shutdowns in occupied Kashmir — where it put down accountability norms for Internet shutdowns, and said that some essential websites should be accessible, is that it has given rise to the creation of the Great Indian Firewall: filters that control what users can and cannot access online, Medianama portal said on Saturday.
It said Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been asked to install a firewall and white-list certain websites. It quoted Shaleen Kabra, the Principal Secretary in the Home Department of the Government of occupied Jammu and Kashmir, in an order, as saying that ISPs will have to install “necessary firewalls and carry out ‘white-listing’ of sites that would enable access to Government websites, and websites dealing with essential services, e-banking, etc, excluding, however, access to all social media sites”. In addition, Kabra adds that “2G mobile connectivity on post paid mobiles for accessing white-listed sites, including e-banking shall be allowed, to begin with, in the districts of Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Udhampur and Reasi”.
VPNs are also being completely banned.
This isn’t as sophisticated as the Great Firewall of China, but it is the first step in that direction, Medianama said. The Great Firewall of China is believed to have blacklists for certain websites, content and keywords, and some whitelists, but also has block-lists. VPNs are banned, but some work. There’s more that the Chinese government does to enable blocking of content.
Listing a few points to consider, Media man said: “This legitimizes the establishment of blocking infrastructure and its use by the government, even though the order is valid in-force for 7 days; it’s likely to get extended further.
Once the infrastructure is in place, the following could happen” More such curbs: If ISPs don’t challenge this order, it will lead to a justification of similar curbs of access to the Internet, and such curbs may be imposed more frequently, where for parts of the country, only white-listed content is available. Potential for switch from white-listing to black-listing: “Firewalls can switch very easily from white-listing mechanisms to black-listing mechanisms.
Why not block certain content for the whole country?” Medianama said.
Scope-creep of Internet blocking is not out of the question, and Section 69 of the IT Act allows the Government of India to do secret Internet blocking, without transparency, and hence without accountability to the public, the portal said.
The Supreme Court, in seemingly trying to figure out a balance, and while asking the government to adhere to the principles of proportionality, has effectively legitimised filtering infrastructure, saying that:
“In any case, the State/concerned authorities are directed to consider forthwith allowing government websites, localized/limited ebanking facilities, hospitals services and other essential services, in those regions, wherein the Internet services are not likely to be restored immediately.”
Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2020