Blogger blocked by some ISPs in India?

More on this at the Bloggers Collective Google Group.

Some links
Protests by Bloggers, List of ISPs that seem to have blocked blogger

I see that a lot of people are getting here by googling for some variation of “How I can see my blogspot” – This is – how you can bypass the block.

Note – Updates are being added towards the end of the post. Please keep checking. I am including some government contacts in Update 10. Please contact them and ask them to release an official list of those sites that are on the list of blocked sites, or ask them if they would prefer a Right to Information application. Shivam posts on his experience – calling up a government official. For the lastest phone numbers of the powers be that in the Government please access them here.

Is Blogspot.com being blocked by one or two of the Indian ISPs? (I don’t want to cry wolf – but it appears to be a possibility.) Here’s a list of all (not sure) the ISPs in India.

From Mridula, who alerted me to her post.

I asked a few people who are from India and were available on Google chat that if they were facing the same problem? People in India that I contacted are facing it.

Now I know I am speculating but it makes me very very irritated to think that our government might be playing some hanky panky with blog sites? The other possibility is that Blogger messed it up only in India? I would love it if it is the second possibility but I think there is a very slim chance of that. I can only hope that there is an innocent explanation to it.

It’s completely possible that there is an explanation for this. Some local servers may be down. (Do they have local servers?) Blogger doesn’t hint at any status change. It may not be a cause for alarm. But I am concerned nevertheless. If you are on MTNL or Specranet in India, could you please let me know if blogspot.com has been blocked? In fact if you’re in India, can you please just let me know if you can access these sites? Thanks.

Update 1 – Dina (Bombay) confirms that she can access only her dashboard on Blogger. She even managed to post to a blog. However she cannot access Blogspot. She’s on Reliance Powersufer. Aparna (Calcutta) who is on BSNL can access both the sites.

Update 2 – Over IM, Mridula (Delhi) confirms that her ISP’s call centre stated that they have received a letter from the Government, hinting that it has something to do with the block. Dina called up her ISP’s call centre and they confirm that there is no blocking or filtering at their end.

Update 3 – Anupa on Sify.net and Rit on Airtel can access. Monica on Tata Indicom confirms that she can post and access Blogspot.com.

Update 4 - See comments for the list of ISPs that allow access or not. There is also another way to be sure about what is being blocked by your ISP. Angelo writes

Could you please paste your traceroutes in here for mumbaihelp.blogspot.com and for blogspot.com as well, thank you.
1) Go to Start
2) Click on Run
3) Type in: tracert blogspot.com
4) You should see something like:
Tracing route to blogspot.com [66.102.15.100]
over a maximum of 30 hops:

5) Right click in the window, select all, and paste it in here as a comment.. then we could figure out where exactly the block is taking place at.

Note – Indian blogs are not being blocked. So you can access blogs on any other platform. It’s the domain blogspot.com that is being blocked.

If you are not able to access blogspot blogs, there could be other reasons. You may be having a problem with your connection or it could be a temporary issue. (Remember blogger goes down frequently.)

One way to be really sure is to go to http://pkblogs.com or via proxy (http://www.hidemyass.com/), and see if you can access.

Update 5 – In case you feel like asking Spectranet why exactly one cannot access Blogspot on their service – call +91 – (0)11 – 41612277.

Update 6 - Dina informs us that both Typepad.com and Blogspot.com domains appear to be inaccessible. Mridula confirms the same. Abi has called up the Spectranet call centre and receives a similar response to the one Mridula heard. Angelo got in touch with someone at Blogger.com, and there appears to have been no maintenance over the last few days that should affect access to blogspot blogs.

Update 7 – Some bloggers have written more about this. Amit at Digital Inspiration has a comprehensive post on the issue including ways to circumvent the block and Saket at Vulturo on India doing a Big Brother.

Update 8Peter has set up a wiki here – IF you cannot access blogspot domain (despite your connection being robust etc.) please go here and add details regarding your ISP and their contact details. Thanks also for publishing your tracert details here. They have been forwarded to someone at Blogger is looking into what the issue is.

Update 9 - Shivam has been doing some great work by calling up various people who need to be nudged. Here’s a link to his email on the group – Bloggers Collective.

Update 10 – The following people are a good place to get started off to get through the Indian Government Maze. One person who is accountable to you is Dr. Gulshan Rai (Exec Director). His phone numbers as listed by the government website are (Office: 91 -11-24363081), (Residence: 91-11-22323085) and his email is grai@eis.ernet.in

More phone numbers for the Department of IT can be found here.

If you want to seek information under the Right to Information, Shri BB Bahl is the Public Information Officer for Department of IT. Here is a very comprehensive guide to finding out more about blogs through the Right to Information Act. It even has a draft letter that you can send off.

Update 11 – Geocities also blocked? Mridula has a screenshot. Amit confirms that Airtel is blocking Blogspot.com and Geocities.com. Sify might have joined the bandwagon too.

Update 12 - List of ISPs that are blocking Blogspot.com. Some of them are also blocking Typepad.com and Geocities.com

Spectranet, MTNL, Airtel, Sify, Reliance Powersurfer, Exatt, Swiftmail, Incable, BSNL, VSNL and 7 Star Cable Service (which AFIK – has been bought over by VSNL).

Update 13 - Rediff has an article about this. BoingBoing makes a note of it. Chacko at the The Great Indian Mutiny gets a different story from his sources.

There is a crack down in place. IP numbers are being physically located and identified. All should come back to normal once this operation is over. There is no ban in place. Livejournal and WordPress have been spared. No reason given.

Now I know you are not going to believe this, so I’m going to quote what she said, “This operation is limited to certain parts of India. Bloggers in Andaman, Nicobar and Lakhsadeep islands are not affected.” I thought she was joking but I didn’t hear the reciprocal laughter from the other end of the phone line.

I didn’t believe that and laughed for a full five minutes.

Update 14 - I am being superstitious. I didn’t want to stop at 13 updates. Oh well.

There is something so surprising about this act of censorship that I think we took a little time to react to it. In a sense I was as much part of the Pakistani group of bloggers who were reacting to a similar block, and at that time I think there was this sense that a government that isn’t voted in is not exactly going to respect online freedom. However, in the case of India there is a sense of “But we’re a democratic country.”

I am rabidly anti-censorship. Ultimately it’s about boundaries. If someone runs a hatespeech website, it is well within their right to. The minute they urge you to act on that hate – they infringe upon another’s rights. I know the lines are hard to draw. But any war against censorship cannot be partial. You cannot want censorship for one sort of content and ask for a no-glance policy on the other. Because to even make that distinction you will have to judge content, and assign values to it.

Coming to the issue of technology being used by terrorists. Now, technology has always been a cat and mouse game – with the identities of the cat and mouse being switched between the entities. The way to overcome the use of technology to harm XYZ’s interests is not to block the technology itself, but to use a higher variant of the technology to protect XYZ’s interests.

How you sell the sorrow of a block is an entirely different matter. You cannot tell a government that every point of view, as long as it doesn’t infringe upon someone else’s rights is legitimate. If on a website it says ABE is a community of idiots, it might provoke Ms. Spitter to go out and spit on ABE. If you’re ABE, the one who wronged you is not the website – but Ms. Spitter. (Again fine lines – provocation etc. I know.)

Tomorrow will the government decide that terrorists travel by cars, and therefore all petrol pumps must be shut? Or wait, you must show an Identity Card everytime you buy petrol? I remember linking to Anand’s post on how one of the direct fallouts of terrorism is the loss of individual liberty. That post was prophetic.

Update 15 - It’s still not clear if the government wanted a few blogspot blogs blocked (more likely) or wanted a blanket block. I’ve got a few mails about how http://pkblogs.com isn’t working right now. Interestingly it still works extremely well for me. Isn’t it wonderful how a gateway to circumvent censorship in Pakistan is being used by people in other countries? (Tsk. Especially India?)

Don’t lose heart though. There are other ways to read these blogs.

Another rant – but has anyone noticed how when India and China are compared by the bulging list of consultancies and Ibanks, it’s ultimately India’s context of democracy that is quoted as the tipping factor in the scales? One of the most obvious indicators these days is how much of the internet is censored. In a sense, it is a measurement of a country’s freedom of expression. (Or till recently, the country’s inability to handle matters of technology in some cases.)

Even if online censorship is no real indicator of freedom of expression, it is an easy one. It will be used by those who prefer investing in China. Because it speaks volumes about the sort of liberal values a country stands for. (Like I said – it could be misrepresentative. But whatever.) Never mind the fact that India can have free and fair elections. In the end, the venture capitalists maybe taking a very close look at what the IT policy of a country says about the country’s aspirations for its citizens, international relations and its economic future.

Update 16 - Because we all need a good laugh. Seriously!

Update 17 - I’ve done a post at Global Voices on the issue. Jason Goldman at Blogger Buzz who assured me today morning that there was no maintenance work going on at Blogspot, acknowledges the problem. Quite a few international bloggers have picked up the news. A good list of links available at DesiPundit.

Update 18 - Kiran makes some excellent points about moving forward. He puts together an action plan on what can be done. At this point, I suppose it’s about being able identify immediate and strategic needs.

At a more immediate level, we need to ensure that bloggers in India are able to circumvent the block, not just using temporary means, but get more comfortable using tools that work on both protecting a person’s privacy, and sidestepping the government’s foolishness. In simple terms – online outreach.

The other immediate task is to ping the Govenrment with whatever resources we have at hand, and question this act of censorship.

I’ve heard in some circles that this is not being seen as censorship. Since I don’t feel like linking to an mp3 of a wakeup call let me write this in caps – this is CENSORSHIP. If this isn’t censorship, I don’t know what it is. Please lets not fool ourselves into believing that the governemnt has done this for our benefit. When people burn entire libraries down, it’s not becasue of the content, but the “possibility of content”. Because they fear being criticized.

More strategic needs – looking at Censorship as a whole. We’ve become relatively complacent in India. About how there is no censorship. Or that the state is at the most the eater of Bribes. Our mai-baap relationship with the Government ensures that we never really enter a more accountable relationship with the State. Irrespective of the content, censorship is indicative of fear. And of insulting citizens. That people cannot determine what is good for them.

If one really does propose that terrorists use blogs to communicate, it smells like crap. If they use such a public forum – monitor the forum for God’s sake. Keep an eye on it. The government can keep an eye on anything that is in the public domain. At this point, it is vital to find partners within India and outside who are working on issues of censorship. This is NOT about blocking a few sites. It is about the state telling you what to read, and what to think. It’s one of your fundamental rights. If you are not keen on protecting this one, chances are the state will assume you are not too keen on others either.

So, regardless of whether you are a blogger yourself. Regardless of whether you can blog through proxifiers, or access blogs by hopping over IPs. You may personally dislike blogs because you think it’s a waste of time. You may be of the opinion that people should go find a job instead of blogging. Regardless of all that – censorship is an issue because it is a matter of your fundamental right.

Update 19 - Mainstream Media/ Press coverage here.

ndtv_1.jpgUpdate 20 - You know what really worries me? When I see stuff like this. A poll on NDTV that asks if the block is justified or not. One third respodents appear to have said “Yes”. What is even more worrisome? The poll results will be used repeatedly on air today as a barometer of what “people want”.

Gentle Readers – Please do go and make amends.

Update 21 - It’s great to see mainstream media pick up the issue up. But for God’s sake – someone use the word censorship. The reason why websites need to be unblocked is not because the content on blogs is harmless. We know that blogs are about looking at our split ends, and inspecting toenails. Don’t remind us how insignificant we are. Please. :)

Regardless of how harmless we are, we’d like to be read.

Update 22 - Kamla does a great podcast with four different people. (Disclosure – I am one of them.) She covers the block, how it was became an issue, if it’s censorship, the technical aspects of it and the work arounds.

Update 23 - The fine folks who work relentlessly to circumvent the ban on accessing blogspot blogs in Pakistan, have released details of another gateway so people in India have easy access to blogspot blogs.

Yasir Memon & Naveed Memon have come yet again to save the blogging community from the douldrums to have launched Inblogs.net which is similar to pkblogs but more suited for the Indian traffic.

Update 24 - Julien Pain from the Internet Freedom Desk at RSF, responding to an email writes

We called the Cert In and we sent them an e-mail asking them to lift the blockage of all blogging platerforms. So far, we haven’t issued a public statement because we believe this blockage is mainly due to an inappropriate technical decision. So we hope they will take action soon to solve the problem.
But if they don’t do that in the next couple of days, we’ll issue a statement condemning a case a censorship.

As a response to this comment on my blog – Of course there is no ban. It’s only a block on reading content. Whether because of inefficiency or incompetency, net result is that people in India cannot access certain sites.

However, for the government to release ANY list of websites to be blocked. I do not want to be told by the government what information I can and should digest. I think that impinges on my rights. The very rights the government is supposed to protect. I am anti-censorship. Funnily, I’ve heard from bloggers in all these states except for the Union Territory of Pondicherry. It’s precisely the fact that the government REFUSES to communicate that worries me even more. I never compared this to Tiananmen Square Massacre, however, if you must – the similarity is that the government doesn’t acknowledge the issue.

One instance of impingement is not better or worse than the other. However, I suggest you very carefully go through the post and the comments before alleging anything. I did not compare this to the Indian Emergency. But in the larger scheme of things – censorship is always bad news. And small blocks lead to some very big smelly drains.

Update 25 - I just did a brief piece for Guardian Blogs.

Update 26 - How the Government makes life more expensive for you. Or disguises censorship. Kiran just pointed to an article that indicates that Skype and other VoIP may have a tough time operating in India. Why? Because the Government is going to make ISPs pay for a service they can offer free. Obviously the ISPs would argue that anybody else then will also have to pay.

The ISPs are forced into a license regime situation – and pass on their disadvantages to other services. But please – don’t forget that it’s the Government that started it.

Update 27 - The Indian Consulate in New York offers an explanation.

The matter was immediately taken note of by our CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) and the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) was informed of it. The DOT took up the matter forthwith with the search engines and instructions were also issued to all Internet providers to block the two impertinent pages. Because of a technological error, the Internet providers went beyond what was expected of them which in turn resulted in the unfortunate blocking of all blogs. Department of Telecommunications have now clarified the issue and the error is being rectified and it is expected that normalcy in respect of blogs will soon be restored.

In a way one is grateful that the ISPs are incompetent, or this a tiny block may have gone completely un-noticed. Like when a book goes missing in a library, you never know why – but burn the library down, and the smoke talks too much.

Update 28 -

blockedwebsites

Peter links to a scanned version of the ACTUAL document that went out to the ISPs and Rediff tells us that the block on blogs (no, not the other sites) will be lifted in 48 hours plus notes on the kind of websites that have been blocked.

Update 29 - BSNL and VSNL appear to be letting their users access blogspot blogs now. I don’t see a cause to celebrate yet. (Though I wish to do a thumping handshake with all my blog mates for getting together to gather so much media and government attention!)

ISPs haven’t been asked to unblock all sites – merely comply only with the select list. Censorship is still on. What puzzles me is this – so is the issue one of “As long as you don’t censor what I say – I am okay with censorship.” What about your right to access somebody else’s work? Even if ONE website is blocked – the government is denying you – your right to access something already in the public domain.

I may not be updating this post much anymore – because it looks like the focus needs to shift cyber-censorship in India. Some immediate needs appear to have been addressed – now off to the long haul.

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