(Okay, this is my last post on this whole blog ban thing, I promise):
Now that the government has finally acknowledged (or has it?) that it 'didn't mean' to block all of blogspot and is busy trying to shift the blame onto ISPs, we've inevitably arrived at the question of whether censorship of any sites whatsoever is justified.
From what I've seen on the blogosphere, there are two broad camps here - those who believe that all censorship is wrong, and those who feel that some things may genuinely have to be censored, in 'national interest'.
On the whole, I'm with the first camp. I remain unconvinced that the expression of opinion, any opinion, constitutes grounds for punitive action. Efforts to police opinion, have in my view, only two effects, both inimical. First, they drive differences of opinion underground, isolating those with deviant opinions from the larger stream of social thought and reducing the chances of dealing with them in an effective manner. Second, they lead to the stifling of innovation and creativity and negatively impact the richness of social dialogue. Notice also, as I argue in my earlier post, that it's a short step from policing expressed opinion to policing thought, and from there to the complete cessation of all rights and liberties.
But there is a second and less extreme point to be made against those who feel that censorship may, in some cases, be justified. The key thing to remember, I think, is that saying that some sites may need to be censored is not the same thing as saying that some officious bureaucrat sitting in his office should have the blanket power to block any site he likes without having to provide any explanation or be held accountable in any meaningful way. Censorship per se need not be inconsistent with democracy, censorship based on Gulshan Rai's personal whims certainly is.
Living in a free state does not mean that you can do or say anything you like. It does mean, however, that the onus is on the government to prove that what you're doing is harmful to society and against the nation's laws, that that contention needs to be ratified by the judiciary before action can be taken against you, and that it must be possible for citizens to hold the government accountable for their actions - which is only possible if information on censorship decisions is provided in a transparent and timely manner.
For the sake of the argument, let's assume that there are websites that are genuinely detrimental to national security / interest (though for my part I can't imagine what these would be) and that it is, in fact, feasible to ban access to them (which I'm unconvinced of). Should the DoT be able to send a confidential notice to ISPs asking them to ban the site? Absolutely not. If there is any banning to be done, the process should, at the very least:
a) Need to be approved by the judiciary
b) Involve giving the owner of the accused site the right to defend himself / herself
c) Have the provision for site owners to sue the government for wrongful censorship if it is shown that their sites were unfairly blocked
d) Have proceedings that are made freely available to the public - including public documentation of exactly what sites are to be blocked, why, who is going to block them and whether such blockage is feasible.
A system where the executive arm of the government arbitrarily decides what sites it wants to block and simply goes ahead and blocks them, without informing the general public of what they're banning and why, is unacceptable.
The point is this - if you believe (as I do not) that the government action in blocking even a handful of websites is justified, you need to do better than say - some websites may be dangerous. The mere fact that their might be websites inimical to national interest does not imply that we should blindly take everything the government tells us on trust, any more than the existence of criminals implies that the police should have the right to throw anyone they want in jail. Even if websites are to be banned, we need evidence that so drastic a step was taken only after the websites in question were given a fair trial and after due democratic process was followed.