Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Let's not give the government the benefit of the doubt

I've said this elsewhere, (see comments) but:

Why are we assuming that this block is inadvertent? We don't actually know that. All we know is that the government gave some instructions to ISP providers and as a result we can no longer access any blogspot blogs. We don't know exactly what those instructions were or why they were given. We've received no official statement from the government telling us that they meant to block only one or two particular blogs. Why are we then buying into this fiction about how the government only wanted to block a few blogs and the ISPs went ahead and blocked the entire domain because they were lazy / clueless? Because the MSM says so? Come on. We know better than to believe them.

I'm not saying that the inadvertent story couldn't be true or isn't true necessarily. I'm just saying that we have no reason to believe that it's true. Maybe the government did mean to block all blogs. Maybe they don't want their citizens to have access to blogs at all. Maybe they do know what they're doing and actually want to block a million sites, not 12 or 17 or whatever.

Look, I know we're all used to the idea that the government is well-meaning but incompetent. But I think we need to be careful about not carrying that assumption too far. One, it leaves us vulnerable to being taken advantage of by the government - as long as we continue to assume that they mean well, they can get away with all sorts of violations without having to answer for them. Two, accepting that the government inadvertently blocked all blogs is letting them off the hook easy. Even if it's true, why should we, the victims of this ban, apologise for them? From a negotiation standpoint, that's just weakening our own side. If the ban is a mistake, let the government come out and admit it. Better yet, let them fix it so we can get access to our blogs again (well, okay, we have access, but I mean access without having to remember to go through pkblogs or starting Tor or whatever). Where the hell did this "forgive them, they know not what they do" story come from?

Frankly, I'm sick to death of seeing unsubstantiated speculation published as fact in the mainstream media. As far as I'm concerned, I'm assuming that the ban is deliberate and well thought out - that the government of India has willingly and knowingly and without any official explanation banned its citizens from accessing millions of websites. And that's what I'm going to believe until the government tells me any different.

(Okay, okay, I'm going to stop ranting about this and move on. Soon.)

Update 1:

Just saw this in the Hindustan Times.

Dr Gulshan Rai, director of the Computer Emergency Response Team, the apex organisation under the IT Ministry responsible for the nation's cyber-security, told HT: "There's no attempt to block www.blogspot.com from our side. The order issued by the DoT has four blogs hosted on Blogspot.com. The order didn't ask the whole site to be banned."
Two things. First, this is the same Gulshan Rai who, two days ago, was telling us how "somebody must have blocked some sites" and he couldn't say anything about it. Who's to say what he might 'remember' when his memory comes back further. Maybe he'll finally be able to recall blocking blogspot as a whole.

Second, it is not okay for the government to say - oh, this is not what we intended so it's not our problem. Whether they meant it or not, it's the government directive that has caused Blogspot and other blogs to be blocked, so it's their job to fix what they've screwed up.

Frankly, I don't blame the ISPs. With a government this illogical and this incoherent, there's just no point in taking risks. Who's to say that people like Rai won't turn around tomorrow and accuse them of not carrying out orders and shut them down? This is exactly why we need to have all censorship orders made public - so that everyone, including the ISPs, can be clear on just what the government has ordered and why.

Update 2:

In an interview to AFP, our the indomitable Gulshan Rai had this to say:

"I have seen the government order. Only two webblogs -- pyjamaeditors.blogspot.com and exposingtheleft.blogspot.com have been been blocked," Gulshan Rai, head of cyber security agency Computer Emergency Response Team, told AFP.
Quite amazing, when you consider that he just told Hindustan Times that there were four blogspot sites. You'd think if the man was going to lie he'd at least be smart enough to get his story straight first.


Kaushik Gopalan said...

It would have been nice if even one MSM article had mentioned the millions of sites part. All the articles I have read mention stuff about domains and webpages, but not even one specifically mentions that millions of blogs have been blocked.

It's driving me crazy.

Kaushik Gopalan said...

Ok, they figured it out now. Phew.

Varun said...

THis Gulshan dude is totally crazy... and what is crazier is that he is the "head of cyber security agency Computer Emergency Response Team"...

Sabarish Sasidharan said...

I once worked for a manager who used to keep changing his words like Mr Gulshan. Don't see it as his incompetence. We should see it as a tactic. The tactic is to frustrate us and keep us guessing as to what really is the truth. They don't bother if it gives them a bad image. Images fade in a few days.

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