For reasons that still remain unclear, the Indian Government appears to have taken the highly unusual step of censoring the Internet Archive (also sometimes referred to as the Internet Wayback Machine).
The vitally important Internet Archive
The Internet Archive is a not-for-profit organisation which has been archiving internet content for more than two decades. It is arguably the most important sites on the internet and as of October last year had amassed an astonishing 510 billion time-stamped web objects which take up a huge 15 petabytes of storage. This includes 273 billion web pages from over 361 million websites.
Visitors to the Internet Archive website are able to archive sites and visit those that are already stored for free. The site also hosts a huge amount of free music, movies, videos, e-books and software which are out of copyright.
Blocked without reason
The block first emerged early yesterday. According to Medianama, attempts to access the site from multiple Indian ISPs and mobile providers are all met with an error message which reads, “Your requested URL has been blocked as per the directions received from the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India. Please contact administrator for more information.”
There has been no comment on the block yet from anyone at the Department of Telecommunications and a lack of transparency over online censorship in India makes it hard to establish the reasons for it, whether it has been in place by Government decree of a court order, or how it could be removed.
One theory which has gained a foothold with some commentators is that it has been drawn to the Indian Governments attention that the Internet Archives has copies of some documents and web pages which they have decided the Indian public should not have access to and which have been removed from their own websites.
In particular, some Twitter users had highlighted several UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) related documents which fit this description.
Responding to the censorship of their not-for-profit service, the Office Manager at the Internet Archive, Chris Butler said in a statement that they were not informed of the action and multiple attempts to contact relevant Indian Government departments had gone unanswered.
He said they were “disappointed and concerned” at the censorship of their service and asked anyone with information to contact them directly.
How to unblock the Internet Archive in India
It is to be hoped that more information on the decision to block the Internet Archive in India will emerge in the coming days. With any luck, the decision will be reversed sooner rather than later.
But in the meantime, there is a relatively simple process by which Indian people can get around the censorship and access the Internet Archive in full. All they have to do is sign up for a Virtual Private Network or VPN.
With a VPN, they can encrypt their online data and therefore hide it from the ISPs and mobile providers who are enforcing the block at the behest of the government. Then, by connecting to a server outside India, they will be able to view and download anything they like from the Internet Archive, including any embarrassing content the Indian Government might be keen for them not to see.
There are plenty of VPNs on the market that can do this job, but you can read more about which VPN providers we recommend for Indian users here. Most decent VPNs will charge a small fee, but at a time when online censorship and surveillance is on the rise in India, it a small price to pay for complete internet freedom.
The BBC are reporting that the block on the Internet Archive is a result of legal action taken by two Bollywood production companies – Prakash Jah Productions and Red Chillies Entertainment.
The BBC claims to have seen court orders which list no fewer than 2,650 separate websites that have been ordered to be blocked in India amid claims that they are sharing pirate copies of their movies.
It seems that the Internet Archive has made its way onto that list and is therefore blocked in India as a result of the ruling, which was handed down by the High Court in Madras on 2nd August. Further details are as yet unclear and it remains to be seen if the Internet Archive will be unblocked in India any time soon.