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Did overzealous ISPs take India's web censorship to new levels?

  • Author: Jason Overdorf
  • Updated: September 29, 2016
  • Published August 27, 2012

Here's an update to my weekend item on India's moves to censor Google, Facebook and Twitter: Amit Agarwal writes for the Wall Street Journal's "India Real Time" blog that overzealous ISPs have taken India's web censorship to new levels in the latest go-around -- possibly going beyond the mandate of the alleged letter from the IT ministry. Here's an excerpt:

Indian ISPs have routinely blocked web domains on government orders but there was something unique about this block that we haven’t seen before in India.

Airtel employed “keyword based” filtering and any web page that had the term “” anywhere in the URL was being blocked. For instance, the Wikipedia website was accessible but the page was not as it contained the keyword.

After word spread on Twitter, Airtel quickly unblocked the site but it raised an important question: Did it block the domain on official orders, as the message claimed, or was it just a technical error?

I tried reaching out to Airtel on multiple channels but haven’t received any response so far. The company did issue a statement to The Wall Street Journal on the broader issue of blocking sites that said: “Bharti Airtel is in compliance with all government directives on public access to websites. In continuation with this, select URLs as notified by the government have been blocked.”

Elsewhere, India correspondent Dean Nelson accuses the Indian government of temporarily blocking the website of the UK's Telegraph newspaper.

In a note to Indian ISPs on Thursday evening, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology listed 309 web pages and 16 Twitter accounts which would be blocked as part of their clampdown. But their move provoked concerns over censorship after the list revealed a number of mainstream news organizations, including the Telegraph, among those blocked.

The Telegraph's blocked page included a photo-gallery of Reuters and Agence France Press news photographs which documented attacks by Burma's Buddhist Rakhine community on villages which had been occupied by Rohingya Muslims, who had migrated from Bangladesh several decades earlier. Other reputable news sites which were blocked include the Times of India, the Dainik Bhaskar, one of India's best-read newspapers, and FirstPost, one of the country's leading news websites.