The debate over online censorship around the world has taken many interesting turns, and has recently struck a chord in India. Any time violence or threats of arson surface in the Kashmir Valley, the government is quick to shut down all internet services. The officials argue that social media sites like Facebook and WhatsApp are used by protesters to mobilize and provoke ordinary citizens to resist police forces. The current government in India has also ordered the blocking of over 1000 porn websites according to the guidelines of the top court, particularly those dealing with child pornography. The move was severely criticized in social media as the opposing parties issued cries of a “Taliban government”, depriving consenting adults of the harmless fun of watching porn. However, some citizens agree with the move.
Bring Wayback Back
The Indian government, however, has now blocked the internet archival site Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine is a digital archive of the internet. The service enables users to see archived versions of web pages across time. Their goal is to capture and archive content that otherwise would be lost whenever a website content gets changed or shuts down. The website contains huge amounts of data and is particularly helpful for students, activists and researchers.
The decision of India’s Department of Telecom was due to the leak of two recent Bollywood movies. The producers of the movies filed a petition in the Madras High Court after which the government blocked the site. Given the bleak mood in Bollywood, with low viewer turnouts, online streaming of the latest flicks would have been a nightmare for the producers.
Even though website officials tried to reach out to the Department of Telecom they have not received any response. Although the Wayback Machine is a very useful for the public, it remains unpopular among the government officials.
Government Accountability: Zero
In a country where the majority of the citizens look up to the government for subsidies and benefits, government websites are frequently visited by beneficiaries. In case the government withdraws a particular newsletter or offer, the document could still be found on the Wayback Machine and then used to pin the responsibility on the government in case of any evasions.
It is also very handy for keeping record of the promises made by political parties during elections. Even if the parties were to delete the reports and poll promises, the Wayback Machine would have archived the records, making it particularly difficult for government officials to evade difficult questions or manipulate statements.
India has around 450 million Internet users, according to the Internet and Mobile Association. Opposition parties have already been attacking the government of shrinking public dissent and this ban could prove their concerns to be valid. After all, the ban only makes the government bodies less accountable to citizens.
Even though some politicians might invoke Mill’s harm principle regarding the ban on pornography, arguing that individuals should be free to do what they want to do as long as they are not causing harm and injury to other people, feminists argue that pornography makes many watchers violent and promotes stalking and aggression towards women. Both sides should, however, agree that blocking sites like Wayback Machine only disempowers activists and lowers institutional accountability.