Indian Government Censors Parody PMO Twitter Accounts to Protect the People of North-East

The Indian Government has censored several Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) parody Twitter accounts, which were being used for humor and criticism. The Government found some of these accounts to be in poor taste, and highly offensive. The Prime Minister himself wrote to Twitter in June, asking it to censor these accounts. However, Twitter being a free-speech enthusiast, probably ignored the request.  Recently, the Government got another chance at removing all content criticizing the PMO, and made the most of this opportunity. However, what interests me is that this Twitter cleanup was performed by the Government, when scouring social media for rumors of hatred against Northeastern people. I say, there could not have been a better opportunity to make things right.

pmo-twitter-account

A PMO official remarked on this  Twitter content filtering, saying,

We are fine with parody, even though at times, it is in bad taste, and there is criticism of the government. However, we cannot allow anyone to misrepresent the PM’s office and tweet nonsense from these accounts.

According to the Government’s claims, both Google and Facebook had confirmed that Pakistan was the origin of all the hatred. The miscreants were using social media to instigate violence, and some of it was spreading through Twitter. However, the Government did not receive any response from Twitter, because there are no Twitter offices in India that the Indian government can work closely with.

The Indian government has already blocked over 400 websites, and restricted bulk SMS facilities, as measures of control against the ongoing tension. Though in the midst of all this ballyhoo, the Government has also blocked several PMO parody accounts. The purportedly blocked Twitter accounts are not blocked by Twitter, but by ISPs in India. The Department of Telecom is leaving no stone unturned to restrict the usage of media that can be used to spread rumors and create nuisance. Though surprisingly, the blocked account of PMOIndia is back as a new account on Twitter, and it is gathering followers rapidly.

MTNL Website Hit By A DDoS Attack By Anonymous India

In their bid to lash out at the very staunch supporters of censorship and blatant liars and looters in general (read: the great Indian Internet Service Providers), Anonymous India has been doing pretty much the same thing that Anonymous Everywhere Else does:-

  1. Download the Low Orbit Ion Cannon software (a freely available Denial of Service attack software that keeps asking the target server several random bits of useless information, and thus clogging it)
  2. Get a bunch of friends and decide on a fairly useless website as the target (which usually does not have many servers to back up the content)
  3. Giggle manically
  4. ????
  5. PROFIT!! (Or at least, some drama)
So, Anon turned its head towards Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL), the State’s ISP for Mumbai and New Delhi and launched a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on its corporate website, leaving many a head in the MTNL office scratching their heads.
This was done to protest against the censorship of several sites such as The Pirate Bay and Vimeo.
We are against Internet Censorship. Instead of blocking few URLs the ISP blocked the whole domain of various file sharing websites. The HC Madras, DoT didn’t isssue any list of websites to be blocked still ISP supported internet censorship.
Apparently MTNL’s managers have absolutely no idea why these sites are banned.
These sites are generally blocked due to court orders or directives from the Telecom Department. But I cannot say for sure
It is very mind boggling indeed. But if this is the case with an alleged court order, then I am very sure this DDoS would not be more than a minor irritation on some of these employees of MTNL, many of whom would be quite surprised to know that their ISP has a corporate website.

Bulgaria and the Netherlands Refuse to Ratify ACTA

The controversial multi-national Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) (Read: What is ACTA and How it Will Affect You) is steadily losing ground in the European Union, following key players’ withdrawal from ratifying the agreement. Germany and Poland’s holdback, following a wave of protests in the former and much debate in the latter, has fueled other nations’ misgivings about the vagueness with which the Agreement is written and the fact that there are no clear answers as to how it will ensure anti-counterfeiting and not violation of basic human rights.

Acta

The newest withdrawers are Bulgaria – which is waiting for a clearer stance in the entire EU about the Agreement – and the Netherlands, whose parliament refused to ratify the bill. The Dutch parliament is so vehemently against it that they will refuse to budge from their positions until there is irrefutable evidence that the Agreement will not harm basic human rights. This applause-worthy rejection comes with the same message as the open letter by various organizations that have vowed to protect internet freedoms:-

[T]he Commission’s analysis confirms that the current draft of ACTA would profoundly restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms of European citizens, most notably the freedom of expression and communication privacy. These are very much at risk, since the current draft pushes for the implementation of three-strikes schemes and content filtering policies by seeking to impose civil and criminal liability on technical intermediaries such as internet service providers. The text would also radically erode the exercise of interoperability that is essential for both consumer rights and competitiveness.

However, is this the end of ACTA? Not really; a majority of Big Producer countries have signed the Agreement – from the US to Japan to South Korea. Europe is the final hurdle in this entire mess and we must hope that they fight the good fight and end this choking Agreement.

[Photo: Stop Acta by Robert Pasini]

The Newest Ace Up In Tor’s Sleeves Helps Thousands of Iranians Access the Free Internet

When Iran blocking country wide access to many commonly used services, it also apparently blocked a large amount of secured traffic movement inside the country. This was done for two effects – to stop Iranians from using SSL technology that may make the Government’s “monitoring” job difficult, and secondly to stop some more tech savvy Iranians from using TOR. TOR, as we know, is a free Internet anonymizing proxy network that works by routing data from the client software to a network of relays and bridges into an exit node somewhere outside the censored country via secured channels. With the blockade of these channels, the usual bunch of 50,000 to 60,000 active TOR connections in Iran plummeted down to 20,000 and eventually to near zero. To counter this, the TOR project’s Jacob Applebaum outlined a new plan that might enable these users to regain access to TOR.

TorObfs

Applebaum, who had also more or less predicted this event a few days back, talked about a “new weapon” that TOR has in the “arms race” that might enable these users from Iran to start using TOR. The technology in operation is the TOR Obfuscated Proxy (obfsproxy) which “camouflages” the traffic entering and exiting the TOR client as being unsecure and thus being usable in a country with a strict censor such as Iran.

The TOR project website has detailed technical instructions on setting up a TOR obfsproxy, which Applebaum admits, is a little rough around the edges. However, nothing is ever useful unless it is applied where it is most needed. This technology is manna from heaven for the Iranian Internet democracy fighters. If you have the technical know-how to apply this technology in your TOR bridge or relay, please do so to help out these people in oppressed regimes!

Iran Blocks Country-Wide Access to Facebook, Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail

Worrying news from Tehran – an Iranian national said that the country has blocked access to many daily-use communication websites such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and Facebook. This occurred recently without the Government stating the explicit reasons, or even acknowledging that this block has occurred. While many net-savvy Iranians have managed to use proxies and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services to punch through this blockade, the prospect of a nation-wide firewall akin to the Great Firewall of China seems very real for Iranians.

free-iran

Considering that February 11th marks the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, word on CNet is that there might have been a protest planned for the day. Iran is no stranger to cutting off internet and communication to stem protests before they blossom. Last month the information minister had said that the Government is planning to go ahead with an Internet Kill Switch that will firewall a majority of anti-Iranian websites and other means of easy communication.

Considering that Iran’s Internet was supposed to survive a nuclear war, it seems that the centralized Internet service in the country is actually the bane for its people. Pretty soon you will have a nation full of people who are not only irritated at the regime, but also bored without Facebook’s games. According to the Internet, that is a dangerous combination.

Indian Government and Courts Ignore Common Sense and Laws of the Land in a Drive to Leash the Internet

Even as the anti-SOPA protests continue to gain momentum in the US, time may have come for a similar campaign in India. A Delhi High Court judge, while hearing a criminal complaint against Google, Facebook and other online services, threatened to block all such websites “like China”. This comes just weeks after Kapil Sibal, India’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, courted controversy by asking Facebook and Google to pre-screen content.

Backstory

CensorshipThe latest controversy began when, Vinay Rai, the editor of an Urdu-language newspaper, moved the lower court to prosecute 21 websites on which he discovered objectionable content. Speaking to the WSJ, Rai stated that the content he found “offends several religions including Hinduism, Islam and Christianity” and “involves pages and groups where users have mocked Hindu gods and goddesses, Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ”. In response, the trial court issued summons to the concerned organizations, which were approved by the Ministry of External Affairs.

“The sanctioning authority has personally gone through the entire records and materials produced before him and after considering and examining the same, he is satisfied that there is sufficient material to proceed against the accused persons under section 153-A, 153-B and 295-A of the IPC,” the Government said in its report.

Google, Facebook, and several others named in the complaint moved the High Court to seek exemption from the trial court as a similar case was already pending with the High Court. However, the HC judge – Justice Suresh Kait, not only refused to stay the trial court proceedings, but also threatened to go the China way if web-services didn’t clean up their act. He asked websites to develop a mechanism to keep a check and remove offensive and objectionable material from their web pages.

As you might expect, the court’s remark sent alarm bells ringing and have elicited sharp criticism both within and outside the country. Google’s advocate N K Kaul, remarked, “The issue relates to a constitutional issue of freedom of speech and expression and suppressing it was not possible as the right to freedom of speech in democratic India separates us from a totalitarian regime like China”. Manoj Nigam, VP-IT, Vodafone India, termed the demand to monitor and remove content “slightly absurd”, while Tamal Chakravarthy, CIO of Ericsson India believes that “Its (sic) highly improbable that such an act would come into existence”.

Google, Mozilla and Other Web Giants Express Concern over SOPA

Later today, the US House Judiciary Committee has a hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a draconian bill that can potentially kill the internet as we know it. The bill, which has a bipartisan group of sponsors, will enable the censoring of entire websites like YouTube and Facebook even if only a handful number of infringing content is found. It essentially eliminates the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyrights Act) safe harbor provisions, and puts any website that accepts user generated content at significant risk. This includes blogs that accept comments, social networking websites like Facebook, social media websites like YouTube, and social news websites like Reddit. For a lowdown on the danger that SOPA possess to the internet as a whole check out the video embedded below or head over to EFF.org.

Unsurprisingly, SOPA is beginning to create a furore on the internet. The web-giants that stand to lose the most if SOPA becomes a reality, have publicly denounced the bill. Google, Facebook, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL, eBay, Twitter, and Zynga voiced their concerns in an open letter addressed to the US House Judiciary Committee.

We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job-creation, as well as to our Nation’s cybersecurity. We cannot support these bills as written and ask that you consider more targeted ways to combat foreign roguewebsites dedicated to copyright infringement and trademark counterfeiting, while preserving the innovation and dynamism that has made the Internet such an important driver of economic growth and job creation.

Several international civil and human rights organizations including the Centre for Internet and Society in India and the Church of Sweden have also expressed their concern in another open letter.
Other significant efforts to organize a grass roots movement are:

Mozilla: The browser maker is attempting to educate its US users about the pitfalls of SOPA by rotating a link to its anti-SOPA campaign page on Firefox’s home page (about:home).

Reddit: Reddit, which relies entirely on user generated content, is one of the companies that will be in jeopardy if the proposed bill is passed. Besides changing its logo, Reddit has put up an announcement to encourage netizens to get involved.

Sendwrite: Sendwrite collected messages from over 3000 netizens and will be mailing them to the concerned representatives for free.

DuckDuckGo: Earlier today, DDG changed its logo and lent support to the Sendwrite campaign.

BoingBoing: The popular blog has changed its logo, in addition to asking readers to write to the Congress.

The SOPA is a disingenuous bill that capitulates to the demands of the entertainment industry. It’s a misguided effort that will do little to stop piracy. Those that wish to steal will always find a way. However, the bill will stifle innovation, and hurt the little guys – startups and work from home ventures. SOPA will allow websites to be blocked even before a case is heard. Even more importantly, how many people will have the time or ability to wrestle it out in front of a judge? SOPA is a draconian law that can devastate the internet, disrupt industries, and ruin the lives of millions across the world. The odds are heavily stacked against the activists. Four out of five witnesses that are set to testify in front of the Judiciary Committee are supporters of the bill. The entertainment industry is determined to muscle this bill through. The only way out is to let the representatives know where you stand.


via American Censorship

/p

Is Google Cracking Down on Employees for Opposing it on Google Plus Names Policy?

Censorship Last week, Vic Gundotra the man in charge of Google Plus, revealed that Google Plus will soon support pseudonyms and other forms of identity. The announcement marked a major victory for privacy advocates who had been vociferously protesting Google Plus’s “common name only” policy. However, the controversy might not yet be over.

It all started in July 2011 when Google began suspending accounts with fake names or pseudonyms. The move was widely criticized by privacy advocates like EFF, and gave birth to the Nymwars. In spite of the backlash from the press and the public, Vic Gundotra remained adamant that anonymity has no place in a social network. Nevertheless, over the weeks Google improved the suspension and enforcement process by introducing grace period before suspension and account verification for celebrities. Several Googlers also joined in on the debate and shared their views on Google Plus.

The cause for anonymity and privacy on the internet is an issue that Google employees obviously care deeply about. About 10% of Googlers had signed on a petition in support of pseudonyms before Google Plus’ launch, and their voice probably played a crucial hand in convincing the bosses at Google to change its policy. However, reports are now appearing that Google might be cracking down on employees sympathetic towards pseudonym advocates.

Earlier today, an anonymous submission on Hacker News read:

Word coming out is that one person was, just this week, put on an unexpected 60-day PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) for sharing opinions of the Real Names policy on internal G+. It’s likely that he’s been set up to fail. If this is accurate, and I believe it is, there’ll be more to tell in late December.
It’s worth noting that individual Googlers have shown nothing but support for this person as the story has developed.

Google using Performance Improvement Plan as a paper trail to fire employees is nothing new, and to be honest Google isn’t the only company that uses PIP as an excuse to fire employees. However, putting employees on PIP for sharing opinions on internal social network is definitely incompatible with Google’s Do No Evilmantra.

The Hacker News submission is anonymous and unverified, and could very well be complete fabrication. Unfortunately, this is not the first time someone has accused Google of punishing employees for being sympathetic towards anonymity supporters. Back in July, @skud highlighted circumstantial evidence that hinted at the usage of gag orders on employees.

Google is entirely within its rights to gag employees who criticize company policies in public. However, gagging and punishing employees who raise their voice internally, or attempt to offer a neutral and balanced point of view to the public (instead of blindly toeing the company line) might be taking things too far. Having a human face matters, and by being too strict Google might end up hurting itself.

Internet Censorship and the Free Society

If I were given a dead kitten for every mind blowing piece of information I saw on the internet, I would be quite rich by now, selling those dead kittens covertly online to a bunch of shady dead kitten enthusiasts and then investing that money on a webpage dedicated to dead kitten paraphernalia, photos and Google AdWords. (Of course, one has to assume that I do not fly into a blind rage and kill the nearest human responsible for the kitten’s death and go to jail thereafter. But this is also the internet, and anything is possible)

Yes, anything is possible on the internet. This one invention has fundamentally changed all civilization touched by it in a matter of years, akin to the steam engine and electricity. It has become a tool with which any layperson can become aware of a niche subject if said person puts their mind to the task, and learns concepts, ideas and practical use of the subject from the comfort of their homes. It is a medium of communication that far outperforms any other kind of relay that human civilization has used in its history. However, the biggest draw to the internet is that it is not subject to any kind of restriction wherever it has been put to use, and users can freely roam it in search of atypical and curious information.

An astute reader would, at this point of time, either chuckle at my seemed ignorance about internet restrictions, or write a harshly worded comment forming an ad hominem argument relating the size of my genitalia to the propensity to naiveté regarding the aforementioned internet restrictions. I believe the last sentence of the previous paragraph may be worded as the biggest draw to the internet is that it is not seemingly subject to any kind of restriction wherever it has been put to use, and users can freely roam it in search of atypical and curious information.There definitely are restrictions on the internet, and while the ways to circumvent these bans and blockages do exist, oftentimes the methods prove to be quite cumbersome for those who are not very internet-savvy; they do not even bother with knowing these methods because they either do not know of the existence of the banned places, or they do not bother about the aforementioned banning because they were not going to go there in the first place, right?

Wrong.

Censorship is the granddaddy of book burning. Book burning itself is a symbol and method of proscription, and its political ramifications of essentially erasing’ a religion or a reign’s past so that the current dominator can write their version of history. In George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece Nineteen Eighty Four, the protagonist works in a department of the totalitarian regime built on this very concept of erasing and rewriting history. Ironically, Nineteen Eighty Four was itself banned or challenged for its views as being intellectually dangerous for society.

Censorship

So if a three hundred and twenty-six page book written in the year Nineteen Forty Nine has challenged the views of great number of people, many of whom were in positions of authority to actually effect an injunction on the book, I wonder how many such quantities of text, photographs and videos have appeared over the years on the internet that have been censored due to their content being deemed unpalatable for the general public’ by a core group of people in positions of authority?

Does this not easily look like an abuse of power vested in those people? Internet users in the United Kingdom have recently been plagued by the same question with four of the country’s big Internet Service Providers (ISPs) bowing to the pressure imposed indirectly by the Mothers’ Union to shield children from sexualized imageryand have decided to make sexually explicit sites an opt-in’ for those who wish to see it. Elsewhere, the admins of Reddit have banned a community under the website called Jailbait where people could find non-nude photographs of girls who are allegedly underage.

Both these bans come under the broad principle of a small bunch of people deciding what is right or wrong for the consumption of an extremely large populace.

The mothers of Mothers’ Union UK has obviously never heard of parental internet control software such as Net Nanny which makes me question their knowledge of the internet as a whole. These people do not understand the anything goes on the internetconcept and have firm rules about what and what should not be viewed by society. Of course, they are the same people who arbitrarily decide on what societyshould be or not be. These are the same people who wish to make upstanding members of the society’ with their ideals akin to a factory production line. And (this is admittedly a long shot) these are the kind of parents who make trash like Toddlers and Tiaras possible. If only they would wake up and browse the internet for a while with an open mind, but no they have to think of the children!

internetcensorship

On the other side of the spectrum is Reddit that has always been a champion of free speech and free see, and free hear and free download. The ban of /r/jailbait has struck a controversial chord in the community and has polarized discussion on what constitutes free speech and what should never ever be done because the reputation of the site is at stake. This argument regarding the reputation of the site stems from the fact that Reddit was seen under an awful light by Anderson Cooper of CNN when he did a one-sided coverage of the site that indirectly claimed that Reddit consisted of a huge population of perverted pedophiles who spent their entire day watching lithe, semi-nude bodies of society’s underage daughters. If you had been to erstwhile /r/jailbait, astute reader, you would also claim that if these were society’s daughters, then society has gone to the dogs. Indeed, when an unsavory community is made specifically to test Reddit’s determination to uphold its protection of free speech (I am talking about a community that links to pictures of dead children) but Reddit fails the test with another community page because of some TV news anchor’s one-sided report, it does boggle one’s mind.

Nevertheless, there is a case for Reddit’s administration, for the subscribers of /r/jailbait might have been engaged in a trade of child pornography which is morally and legally base. However, how does the case stack for Mothers’ Union UK, as they are essentially muting a bustling industry (which is quite harmless to the consumer as opposed to the tobacco or the alcohol industry) because they do not understand (or want to understand) the internet and how to educate their child about it.

The question that arises here is one of perceived freedom. How does a civilization such as ours claim to be free when, given an opportunity, it crushes any sort of deviation from the apparent norm? Why is homosexuality such a grievous sin and how do two men or women falling in love with each other in any way harm children? This entire perception of society colors the word very word deviantin a terribly bleak and distrustful hue that burns pictures of perversion against said deviant in our brains.

Have we, the urban civilians, really become free from the bonds of prejudice or have we really invented another form of prejudice under the vague umbrella of being morally right’?

Color me disappointed.

Malayasian Government Blocks The Pirate Bay, MegaUpload And Other File Sharing Websites

According to a leaked confidential memo, the Malaysian government is ordering the ISPs in the country to block many file sharing websites including The Pirate Bay and MegaUpload. The decision to block the websites is taken by the Suruhanjaya Komunikasi dan Multimedia Malaysia (SKMM) the arm of the Malaysian government which supervises the telecom and multimedia industry in Malaysia.

According to memo sent by the SKMM to the Malaysian ISPs, file sharing websites are in violation of Section 41 of the Copyright Act of 1987. The SKMM is, therefore, ordering the ISPs to block access to those websites under Section 263 (1) and 263 (2) of the Communication and Multimedia Act of 1998.

This is what Section 263 (1) and Section 263 (2) of the Communication and Multimedia Act says:

 

(1) A licensee shall use his best endeavour to prevent the network facilities that he owns or provides or the network service, applications service or content applications service that he provides from being used in, or in relation to, the commission of any offence under any law of Malaysia.

 

(2) A licensee shall, upon written request by the Commission or any other authority,assist the Commission or other authority as far as reasonably necessary in preventing the commission or attempted commission of an offence under any written law of Malaysia or otherwise in enforcing the laws of Malaysia, including, but not limited to, the protection of the public revenue and preservation of national security.

The websites that the SKMM wants to block are:

  • www.warez-bb.org
  • thepiratebay.org
  • www.movie2k.to
  • www.megavideo.com
  • www.putlocker.com
  • www.depositfiles.com
  • www.duckload.com
  • www.fileserve.com
  • www.megaupload.com

The decision by the Malaysian government to block these websites will come as a surprise to many. In April, Malaysian Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, promised that his government will never censor the internet. This is what he said in April:

Some of their politicians are even calling a gag on the internet, or at least some form of government controls and regulations, in the name of national security. I’m not sure why other governments do it, especially if it is true that these told of the Internet can be a pain in the neck. But on behalf of my own government, I can say for certain that it is because we know that this is the way forward. We practice open democracy, and as digital democracy is concerned, it is inevitable, that it would be silly — perhaps even futile — for governments to resist or ignore.

So, what has changed between then and now? Apparently the interpretation of the word censorship. According to Section 3 of the Communication and Multimedia Act of 1998, any action that the Malaysian government takes under to the Communication and Multimedia Act of 1998 cannot be regarded as censorshipof the internet. This is what Section 3 of the Communication and Multimedia Act of 1998 says:

(3) Nothing in this Act shall be construed as permitting the censorship of the Internet.

This means that according to this Act, censoring the internet by blocking the websites mentioned above cannot be called censorshipas the blocking is done through Section 263 (1) and Section 263(2) of the same Act.

The non-censorship stance of the SKMM and the Malaysian government has been just a facade so far. It is an open secret that various porn websites are blocked in Malaysia. The blocking of porn could be justified because pornography is illegal in Malaysia. However, the case with these file sharing websites is different. Not every file they host is illegal or in the case of The Pirate Bay, they do not even host any of those files on their servers. Many independent application developers and indie bands release their applications/albums through such channels to keep the cost of bandwidth down. As an example, the band Sick of Sarahrecently released their album “2205” through such channels.

As of now, it seems that some ISPs are yet to take action and many of these websites are still accessible. The ISPs that have implemented the block seem to have done it only at the DNS level. So, the block can be easily be undone by simply using Google DNS or OpenDNS. The IPs for Google DNS are 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 and that for OpenDNS are 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220.

You will also out Tutorial on setting up Google Public DNS on Windows very useful for setting up alternative DNS on your PC.

Here are the leaked documents:

(Click to see the full size images.)

skmm1 skmm2

 

[Source: W//W]

Reference: Malaysia Communication and Multimedia Act, 1998 (PDF)