Recently, Medianama reported that certain URL’s such as Uploaded.net, ul.to, stooorage.com and lookingglass.blog.co.uk have been blocked on certain ISP’s in India. These URL’s are those of file sharing sites, image hosting sites as well as a foreign blog on politics. These come in a long line of websites blocked on the orders of the DoT, such as the orders to ISP to block 78 URL’s in India as well as the April 2013 order to block websites such as Zegde and Care.org in some circles of certain ISP’s in India. However, the difference between this recent blocking and the others is the absence of the custom message that states that the website was blocked as per the instructions of the DoT. Therefore, there is lack of clarity on whether the ISP’s by themselves or as per the instruction of the DoT blocked these websites. However, as the Medianama article reports, it is unlikely that ISP’s would by themselves block a foreign political blog.
ISP’s in India generally block websites after receiving John Doe orders which allows the ISP’s to “indiscriminately block access to the websites.” This is problematic on two levels because, firstly, in cases such as Zegde, as Medianama reports, it was later realized that there was no court order to block the website and the John Doe order was sent to the ISP’s directly by the DoT and secondly, in many cases, the websites which are blocked by ISP’s based on John Doe orders are not informed about the same. This information asymmetry is not just prior to the blocking but even afterwards, when websites such as Zegde are struggling to find reasons for their blockage. This lack of transparency is a major issue for the websites, users and the ISP’s themselves, a major chunk of their revenue being predicated on data usage.
Therefore, the argument is not a complete pro-speech full access one but merely that there must be complete dissemination of information before websites are blocked, assuming that the blocking is not a random exercise and that there are good reasons for the same. This would result in this being a fairer exercise, more beneficial to all the concerned stakeholders.