Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Monkey Business

So the government finally came up with the list of sites that it asked the ISPs to block. You can find the list, as well as a scanned version of the original fax here.

Many people have commented on the complete idiocy of the sites blocked (see Shivam Vij's rediff article here, and the Curious Gawker's take here), and wondered what the government was thinking - some have even questioned the authenticity of the document. [1] The document itself provides no clue as to why these sites are to be blocked - saying simply that it has been decided to block them. Is the government telling us the full story?

Certainly not. Here, in a Falstaff exclusive [2] is the account of what really happened:

In the aftermath of the blasts in Bombay, the Centre for Random Excursions into Territories on the INternet (CRET-IN) came under heavy pressure from the government to find and block websites that were spreading communal hatred and anti-India propaganda. That these websites existed was self-evident - after all, no one had ever heard of communal violence before the Internet came along. But how to find these sites? After days of assidious searching, CRET-IN officials were forced to admit that they couldn't find a single site with objectionable content. What were they to do now? A crisis of this dimension hadn't hit CRET-IN since the time, six months after their formation, that someone had pointed out to them that running about with long brushes and getting rid of the spiders that lurked in the corners of government offices was not what 'cleaning up the web' meant. (Apparently they needed some new fangled device called a com-pu-ter.)

Faced with this new dilemma, the head of CRET-IN, Gulshan Wry, was suddenly struck by a brain wave. These anti-social elements were inhuman, weren't they? Perhaps they communicated on some frequency invisible to ordinary, well-meaning citizens. Perhaps what looked like a perfectly innocent and fairly boring blog to the patriotic employees of CRET-IN was actually a hotbed of malicious propaganda [3]. Yes, that must be it.

But how to identify such sites? Mr. Wry's first thought was that they should get in some terrorists and have them search for these blogs. When he proposed this to the government, it was pointed out to him that a) the government wasn't capable of catching terrorists, which is why they needed Mr. Wry to block websites in the first place and b) the whole point of the ban was to keep terrorists from seeing these sites, not give them a convenient terminal to look for them.

But Mr. Wry was not to be daunted by so minor a setback. His brain churning away like a washing machine on 'spin', Mr. Wry came up with his next innovative proposal. If we are looking for SIMI-an intelligence, he said, why not use monkeys? They're certainly subhuman enough. Where Mr. Wry got this idea is unclear. Perhaps his ten year old daughter told him how, in Elizabethan England, they employed thousands of monkeys to come up with something called Shakespeare. Perhaps he happened to pass by the blog of the dangerous subversive Peter Griffin and saw a quote about the Internet and monkeys. Perhaps the HR manager of CRET-IN pointed out the outsourcing opportunity presented by the large number of langurs who hang around outside government offices. At any rate, the idea was warmly greeted by the upper echelons, and a troop of 22 monkeys was swiftly recruited for this task.

Once it had been established that the monkeys could touch type (a feat that astonished the employees of CRET-IN), each monkey was given the task of generating more or less random strings of letters. The strings that each monkey typed were consolidated on a page creating, eventually, a 22 page report of suspect configurations. From this, CRET-IN researchers painstakingly culled out the strings that could possibly be part of the URL of a website. For example, suppose the monkey had typed prncskmbly - CRET-IN researchers instantly realised that the prncs was a phonetic reference to the word princess. The kmbly bit proved harder, but eventually, through concentrated semantic analysis and a high-end data mining process called GOOGLE-ing, CRET-IN codebreakers were able to decipher this as kimberly. A search for princess + kimberly pointed the analysts to - which was clearly a site devoted to attacking the Indian people, cleverly disguised to look like the blog of a bored american teenager (oh! the fiendishness of these antisocial elements).

Similar analysis on all strings yielded a total of 17 such sites. Of course, many of the strings were found to be pure gibberish. In fact, many of the monkeys weren't able to come up with even a single subversive site. One of them however, managed to come up with as many as three. This monkey is now being paid top bananas and is rumoured to be the next head of DoT.

At any rate, it was through this highly advanced and sophisticated process that the list finally sent to the ISPs for blockage was arrived at.

Citizens of India, don't you feel much safer, knowing that your government is fast becoming so technology savvy? Gone are the days when important government decisions were taken by deferring them to the judgement of the eminent philosopher, political theorist and parrot, Mithu, who could be found outside the government's offices picking out cards with key decisions on them and chewing on mustard seeds. Clearly our government has moved on to higher forms of 'intelligence'. Let's all commemorate the incredible work done by these dedicated watchdogs, without whose tireless efforts the Internet would almost certainly have gone ape by now.

Disclaimer: This story, like all stories about the Government, is a work of fiction. Any similarity to people living or dead from the neck up is purely coincidental, though, you have to admit, fairly scary.

P.S. As Peter says, it's time to give ourselves a teeny-tiny pat on the back. And to thank all the people who've worked really hard over the past week to bring and keep this issue in the public eye. A big thank you to the folks behind the google group and the wiki as well as to all the other bloggers who've helped make a big noise about this.

P.P.S. It's not like the government always makes things worse, you know. The ToI reports that the government AIDS cell has put in a petition to legalise homosexuality in India. What was it T.S. Eliot said about doing the right thing for the wrong reason?


[1] Though that, of course, is not the real issue - even if these sites had been truly subversive, it's not clear that we should be censoring them.

[2] Rajdeep Sardesai, eat my dust.

[3] Needless to say, when I look at these sites I see only the same boring things that the CRET-IN employees see - thus proving that I too am a good, patriotic citizen. What do you see?


Space Bar said...

who do we set to catch (pun pun) these 22 monkeys?

i'm told that rajdeep sardesai has some issues with and i think i can see why!

Falstaff said...

space bar - haven't you ever heard of the catcher in the Wry? :-).

Space Bar said...

er...clearly not. i thought it was fool khile hain gulshan gulshan.

Astha said...

Love your brand of writing! I hope to god the monkeys can also read a bit- there's some good stuff being written about them :)

On another note- This might actually prove to be an opportunity to get the young involved in Indian politics- perhaps we can keep our outrage up long enough to make something useful out of it!

buddha said...

nice post