Centre for Internet & Society

Over 60 websites and links, including popular online tools like Github and Sourceforge used by thousands of programmers have been blocked in India, triggering angry protests by Internet users.

The article by P.K. Jayadevan and Neha Alawadhi was published in the Economic Times on December 31, 2014. Pranesh Prakash gave his inputs.

The websites were blocked for hosting content that is pro terrorist group ISIS and not cooperating with government investigations, officials said.

Arvind Gupta, the head of IT Cell, BJP Tweeted: "The websites that have been blocked were based on an advisory by Anti Terrorism Squad, and were carrying Anti India content from ISIS. The sites that have removed objectionable content and/or cooperated with the on going investigations, are being unblocked."

Based on an order issued by the country's telecom department, in a letter dated December 17 and a subsequent letter on December 19, over 60 websites have been blocked by various internet service providers in the country.

While some internet service providers are yet to block these websites, many users have been reporting frequent outages in these web services over the last two weeks.

Websites like Pastebin don't host any content but are a platform for users to paste text. Popular video networks like Vimeo and Dailymotion are among the websites that have been blocked.

Officials from the department of Information Technology and the department of telecom were not available for comment. "These are all providing very dangerous kind of cut and paste services..You can take code, cut it, paste it, remove it, delete it," said one government official who requested anonymity.

The government has invoked section 69A of the Information technology Act (2000) and Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules ("Blocking Rules") to ban these websites.

Many websites have been blocked in India from time to time on various grounds. In September, following the Muzaffarnagar riots, over 80 websites and links on social media were blocked.

However, the inclusion of services like Github and Sourceforge that host code for open source software are causing much anger among the developer community. "Sometimes they might need to block specific URLs, but blocking the entire website is wrong or they haven't thought through it," said Thejesh GN, the co-founder of Datameet and an open source developer.

"There is also a lack of transparency where people don't get to know why their sites were blocked," he added.

"We're aware of reports of connectivity issues in India. We're looking into it, and will update with more information when we have it," a Github spokesperson said.

In June 2014, the Delhi High Court ordered a block of 472 file sharing websites including Google Docs and Pirate Bay following a complaint filed by Sony Entertainment. The entertainment company was hacked and contents from its servers were shared by hackers on various file sharing websites. In earlier instances, many websites have been blocked for copyright infringement as well.

"Courts unfortunately are not exercising restraint and are indulging ignorant copyright lawyers," said Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director at the Centre for Internet and Society. Prakash said that most of the sites on the list don't host copyrighted material themselves and a case can not be made against them.