The Indian Government is at it again. They have announced that they intend to order ISPs in the country to block access to 240 websites which offer escort services. Failure to take action will result in the ISPs being charged under the Information Technology Rules legislation which was passed in 2009.
India no stranger to censorship
Regular readers will be well aware that this is not the first time the Indian government has taken such steps. They have in the past blocked access to various torrenting sites and attempted to force all encrypted content to be held in plain text form for a period of time.
Most notoriously, in August of last year, they attempted to block porn sites. Many of the most popular pornographic sites in the country were blocked with a total of 857 sites made unavailable in total. It was only after widespread public outrage that the decision was eventually overturned.
There has perhaps predictably been less of a public outcry this time round. The use of escorts is less widespread than porn but just as taboo in India. Yet in a country which has been beset by a number of grotesque and violent rapes in recent months, and which has done little to stop such incidents being repeated, it seems a little odd to be targeting services that facilitate intercourse between two consenting adults.
The accusation that the Indian Government is therefore once again trying to censor internet access in the country and control what its citizens can see and do online will no doubt be leveled once again. And it would appear with some justification.
Blocks bypassed easily
Of course, the fact remains that such a block is always doomed to fail. As one industry source in India has been quoted, “The moment we block one site, there will be ten new ones that will spring up with different names. Also, they can easily retain the same name by changing one [letter]. It just takes a few minutes to do so.”
Governments who attempt to censor the internet should now be familiar with the cat-and-mouse games they are creating with those whose content they are trying to block. But of course, that never stops them from trying.
If the sites themselves don’t take steps to get around the block, the users can take matters into their on hands. There are a variety of ways for individuals to get around online censorship, but the most commonly used is a VPN.
Because a VPN allows you to divert your online traffic via an external server located overseas, it also allows users to circumvent national censorship and access sites which are blocked in their own country.
With a VPN such as IPVanish costing from just a few dollars a month, it is little surprise that their use is becoming increasingly widespread, especially in countries with a track record of trying to restrict the rights of their citizens to access a free and open internet.
It remains to be seen whether public oppositions will eventually force the Indian Government to backtrack on a censorship policy once again. But whether this block remains in place or not, it is yet another worrying precedent, and indeed a backward step, in what is supposed to be one of the fastest developing and modernising countries on the planet.