According to DNA India, the blanket block on some blogging services has been lifted. Evidently the Department of Telecommunications is now asking ISPs to explain why they overblocked so many sites, rather than blocking just the sites specified. One of the authors of the (offensive, obnoxious) Jawa Report has written to BoingBoing, asking them to clarify that the Indian blog block is NOT over – that his site is still being blocked, as are the sites specifically listed in the DOT request to ISPs.
He’s right. That India is blocking any sites is disappointing. I’d like to see all governments – my own included – block only as an absolute last resort, and as a way to prevent access to content that’s clearly illegal, like child pornography. And I think it’s critical that governments who do block the Internet do so in a way that’s transparent, posting a page that makes it clear that a site has been blocked, offering an appeals process and makng it clear that the page isn’t inaccessible due to technical errors. (Oddly enough, the Saudi practice for blocking prohibited content is near ideal on these criteria, and vastly better than blocking blindly, as Indian ISPs did.) As Neha and Atanu pointed out in the quotes I blogged yesterday, blocking blogs is a slippery slope. Blocking opaquely makes it even more slippery.
Some have argued that bloggers who picked up the Indian block story – including yours truly – were irresponsibly trying to overplay the story to “increase circulation”. (Since I don’t sell ads and pay for my server space and bandwidth, increasing circulation can be a bad thing for me…) I’d argue that the fact the block was reversed so quickly reflects that the Indian blogosphere was extremely successful in making their voices heard and correcting a foolish error. Let’s hope bloggers can now influence policy as well and convince authorities that blocking any sites opaquely is a poor idea.
Blocking online speech can serve as a rallying point… but it doesn’t always have the effect we might hope for. Pakistan’s block is still in effect, and many prominent blogs in Ethiopia – as well as Blogspot as a whole – are unreachable. Efforts in those countries haven’t been successful yet.
Zimpundit points out that the situation in Zimbabwe may be even more disturbing. While the government isn’t blocking blogs, new legislation makes it possible for the government to intercept electronic commuications. This is having a chilling effect on the Zimbabwean blogosphere, as he notes on Global Voices:
mbabwe’s blogosphere has virtually been deflated by threats of new legislation allowing government to surreptitiously spy on people’s cyber activities. Their numerous voices have been silenced leaving a marked void in the chronicling of the one the world’s worst crises. Please keep this troubled nation’s valiant bloggers in your minds and prayers.
In the same way that folks like Dr. Awab Alvi helped his Indian blogger compatriots overcome their block, let’s hope that people who were concerned about the block in India can help call attention to the situations in Pakistan, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe as well.