Analyzing the Latest List of Blocked URLs by Department of Telecommunications (IIPM Edition)
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in its order dated February 14, 2013 has issued directions to the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block seventy eight URLs. The block order has been issued as a result of a court order. Snehashish Ghosh does a preliminary analysis of the list of websites blocked as per the DoT order.
Medianama has published the DoT order, dated February 14, 2013, on its website.
What has been blocked?
The block order contains seventy eight URLs. Seventy three URLs are related to the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM). The other five URLs contain the term “highcourt”. The order also contains links from reputed news websites and news blogs including The Indian Express, Firstpost, Outlook, Times of India, Economic Times, Kafila and Caravan Magazine, and satire news websites Faking News and Unreal Times. The order also directs blocking of a public notice issued by the University Grants Commission (UGC).
The block order does not contain links to any social media website. However, some content related to IIPM has been removed but it finds no mention in the block order. Pursuant to which order or direction such content has been removed remains unclear. For example, Google has removed search results for the terms <Fake IIPM> pursuant to Court orders and it carries the following notice:
"In response to a legal request submitted to Google, we have removed 1 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read more about the request at ChillingEffects.org."
Are there any mistakes in the order?
The direction issued by the DoT is once again inaccurate and mired with errors. In effect, the DoT has blocked sixty one unique URLs and the block order contains numerous repetitions. By its order the DoT has directed the ISPs to block an entire blog [http://iipmexposed.blogspot.in] along with URLs to various posts in the same blog.
Reasons for Blocking Websites
According to news reports, the main reason for blocking of websites by the DoT is a Court order issued by a Court in Gwalior. The reason for issuing such a block order might have been a court proceeding with respect to defamation and removal of defamatory content thereof. However, the reasons for blocking of domain names containing the term ‘high court’, which is not at all related to the IIPM Court case is unclear. The DoT by its order has also blocked a link in the website of a internet domain registrar which carried advertisement for the domain name [www.highcourt.com].
Are the blocks legitimate?
The block order may have been issued by the DoT under Rule 10 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009.
The Court order seems to be an interim injunction in a defamation suit. Generally, Courts exercise utmost caution while granting interim injunction in defamation cases. According to the Bonnard Rule (Bonnard v. Perryman,  2 Ch 269) in a defamation case, “interim injunction should not be awarded unless a defence of justification by the defendant was certain to fail at trial level.” Moreover, in the case of Woodward and Frasier, Lord Denning noted “that it would be unjust to fetter the freedom of expression, when actually a full trial had not taken place, and that if during trial it is proved that the defendant had defamed the plaintiff, then should they be liable to pay the damages.” The Delhi High Court in Tata Sons Ltd. v. Green Peace International followed the Bonnard Rule and the Lord Denning’s judgements and ruled against the award of interim injunction for removal of defamatory content and stated:
“The Court notes that the rule in Bonnard is as applicable in regulating grant of injunctions in claims against defamation, as it was when the judgment was rendered more than a century ago. This is because the Courts, the world over, have set a great value to free speech and its salutary catalyzing effect on public debate and discussion on issues that concern people at large. The issue, which the defendant’s game seeks to address, is also one of public concern. The Court cannot also sit in value judgment over the medium (of expression) chosen by the defendant since in a democracy, speech can include forms such as caricature, lampoon, mime parody and other manifestations of wit.”
Therefore, it appears that the Court order has moved away from the settled principles of law while awarding an interim injunction for blocking of content related to IIPM. It is also interesting to note that in Green Peace International, the Court also answered the question as to whether there should be different standard for posting or publication of defamatory content on the internet. It was observed by the Court that publication is a comprehensive term, ‘embracing all forms and medium – including the Internet’.
Blocking a Public Notice issued by a Statutory Body of Government of India
The block order mentions a URL which contains a public notice issued by University Grants Commission (UGC) related to the derecognition of IIPM as a University. The blocking of a public notice issued by the statutory body of the Government of India is unprecedented. A public notice issued by a statutory body is a function of the State. It can only be blocked or removed by a writ order issued by the High Court or the Supreme Court and only if it offends the Constitution. However, so far, ISPs such as BSNL have not enforced the blocking of this URL.
Implementation of the order by the ISPs
As pointed out in my previous blog post on blocking of websites, the ISPs have again failed to notify their consumers the reasons for the blocking of the URLs. This lack of transparency in the implementation of the block order has a chilling effect on freedom of speech.