Centre for Internet & Society

The Modi government is starting the New Year with the resolve to wipe out terror and it has cracked down on websites that have been carrying anti-India views and spreading the propaganda of the Islamic State (IS).

The article published in India Today on January 1, 2015 quotes Pranesh Prakash.

Reacting to an alert from the antiterror squad of a state police department, the Department of Telecom (DoT) has blocked access to 32 websites. The DoT order that was tweeted by Pranesh Prakash, policy director of the Bangalore-based research organisation, said that 32 URLs have been blocked under section 69 of the Information and Technology Act, 2000.

The order was reportedly issued on December 16 and it was shared on Twitter on Wednesday. GitHub, Archive.org, Imgur, Vimeo, Daily Motion, Pastebin, sourceforge, justpaste, cryptbin were among the sites that were blocked.

As reports emerged on the ban of these sites, there was outrage on Twitter on the issue of internet censorship. However, most of the websites mentioned in the list that were to be blocked were accessible. Pastebin and Internet Archive, two websites that have reportedly been blocked, tweeted their views.

"If you are from India and unable to visit Pastebin, please email us," Pastebin tweeted on December 19. Internet Archive tweeted on December 31 that they too received complaints from users in India who can't access its website.

Reacting to the outrage, Arvind Gupta, national head of the BJP IT Cell took to Twitter and said that these sites have been blocked after an alert from an anti-terrorism squad that most of them were carrying anti-India content from the Islamic State (IS).

"We should congratulate the government for taking a preventive and precautionary step in a proactive manner based on an advisory," Gupta told Mail Today.

He added that he does not have any details of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) order and only reacted to the Twitter debate on the subject.

Intelligence agencies have been struggling to monitor terror activities on cyber space. There have been reports of terror groups using social media to attract young minds to jehadi ideology.

The recent arrest of Bangalore-based executive Mehdi Masroor Biswas, who was operating a Twitter handle under the the name @ShamiWitness and promoting the views of the Islamic State, has come as a wake-up call for security agencies. Biswas, an engineer working as a "manufacturing executive" with ITC Foods, was nabbed from his rented oneroom apartment after a news report stated that his was the most popular IS Twitter account with close to 17,000 followers, and his tweets were getting viewed over two lakh times a month.

Sources said there are close to 30,000 such Twitter handles and other social media forums along with websites that are spewing venom, and little can be done to monitor all of them and act on time. With cyber threat becoming a clear and present danger, the Centre has decided to set up a highlevel committee to only monitor social media and cyber space. Counter-terror officials believe that the jehadi nexus has a huge bearing on India as youth active on social media are vulnerable to the propaganda being carried out online.

Other than @ShamiWitness, there are Twitter handles such as @MagnetGas with radical views and pro-IS tone that are now under the lens. What is disturbing is that many such sites are India-specific and some are believed to be handled by Indians.

"If there is misuse of Internet and social media, it needs to be dealt with legally. The Internet is like a public place, so if there are extreme views, the state needs to exercise its powers," says D.C. Pathak, former chief of the Intelligence Bureau.

This is not the first time that the DoT has clamped down on websites for promoting "objectionable" content. In June 2013, 39 websites that allowed users to share pornographic content were reportedly blocked.