Hacks and Cracks

23 May

When the headless attack the brainless

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As a fitting tribute to its strange and obscure ways, the country’s Ministry of Communications & Information Technology calls its executive arm  “DeitY” (Department of Electronics and Information Technology).  So, it makes perfect sense for Kapil Sibal to multitask as its minister cum missionary and take on the godless internet.

Putting Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook and other social networking sites on notice for their content, he stated at a presser, “This is not censorship, but a check on online content.”

The uneducated laity, unable to distinguish between the two, harped on moralists running amok and attacks on the freedom of speech and expression. Undeterred, Sibal continued his soliloquy, “Religious sentiments of many communities and of any reasonable person is  hurt because of content, which is being put on the sites.” One could hardly accuse the minister of using vague, broad-brushing terms on defining the offended parties. The government would only intervene if some write-up/post was objectionable to any reasonable person. It is a good thing  our country is chock-full of such sensible individuals not  given to fits of outrage at the slightest pretext.

So why the hoo-hah about a nanny state?  Like its citizens, GoI is not thin-skinned. Pre-screening site content or asking Google to remove 358 items out of which 255 were criticisms against it was just its way of teaching netizens the virtue of civility. The law just helped to speed up the process.

The Information Technology Act of 2000,  believing the devil to be in the details, decided to leave it altogether. Its revamped avatar in 2008  allowed the government to punish the sender (including those whose servers were being used) and the consumer of messages regarded as “offensive” or causing  “annoyance” and  “inconvenience” while being false (Section 66 A).  There is nothing subjective about this.

The government could also block  any site it wanted without stating the cause (Section 69 A).  So in 2011, Typepad, Clickatell and Mobango were banned without any warning. This month, Vimeo, The Pirate Bay, Dailymotion and torrentz were blocked by the internet service providers Reliance Communications, Airtel and MTNL to supposedly stop piracy. This was done at the behest of a private company. The fact that Vimeo allows for legit file sharing among many indie filmmakers and provides a lot of useful tutorials does not detract from the discerning powers of our cyber guardians.

We need respite from spams, cyber criminals and phishing sites. Blanket bans on peer to peer sites or domains that share the same DNS  as the targeted site is simply collateral damage. The higher powers know what is best for us and try to shield our impressionable minds. The CERT-IN (Computer Emergency Response Team-India), seeing evil where we can’t, can block any site without revealing the cause,the name of the site or the mechanism for redressal. And, it is a good thing because…well, one of the blogs it shut down was scarily called Princess Kimberley and comprised of the musings of an American teen.

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Oh, stop your government schmoozing! You think you can jackboot our freedoms? We will protest. We will hack. We will destroy. You are going down, baby, down!

You want to know who we are? We are the slacks and the hacks. We ignite the flames of rebellion in the hearts and minds of the netizens. We fight tirelessly by image-boarding our protests, posting it as wall updates, signing long petitions and forwarding it to our friends. Some of us wear strange masks of a man synonymous with a failed rebellion. But that’s besides the point. It’s the intention that counts. That Guy had the right idea. Blow up the freaking establishment.

You try to block us, and  our sidekick sites provide helpful instructions to bypass the block. You check our servers, we find proxies.  You shut us. We shut you.

What? You talk of piracy? What about the daylight robbery by multiplexes and companies hyper-inflating costs of film tickets, music CDs, tech softwares…? I am so sorry that your actors, producers, fat cat company bosses and the rest of the deprived lot are losing out on an extra zero in their payment in crores.

Well, they need to change their way of doing business. Lower the costs of goods and services. Technology is revolutionary. It can level the playing field. But it has no worth if it is inaccessible.

You are fighting a rearguard action in trying to stop us. Be in step with the times. The US tried to turn back the clock on our freedoms through SOPA and PIPA. These may sound like silly nicknames but were Congressional acts that stemmed from an irrational fear of public criticism. The pols tried to use the excuse of piracy to pass it.  But we slacked and hacked these acts down.

Now you, GoI, can stop trying to play rock-paper-scissors with censorship-regulation-filtering. They belong to the same hand, the same supercilious control freak of a body! We will fight for a free internet by blocking your sites!

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To the hactivists: How are you being a Mr. Fix-It? One cannot fight a shutdown with a shutdown. It is easy to get swept up in the drama of being virtual vigilantes; to rail against the government and talk of rebellions from the comfort of anonymity.  But where are your solutions for balancing freedom with a check on cyber crime? You closed many government sites that had necessary information for citizens. What makes you that different from governments that do the same and forget the costs of such measures? Aren’t you helping the government to hype the threat of a free internet?

To Mr. Sibal & Co: Why can’t the IT ministry ever think through its policies rather than come out with sweeping measures that shut sites randomly or place gag orders?  Your government’s proposal at the United Nations General Assembly for a Committee on Internet Related Policies is less about improving internet governance and more about policing. What is your yardstick for what gives offense? Why can’t the government countenance criticism? What are you so scared of?

ANSWERS: PAGE NOT FOUND

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4 Responses to “Hacks and Cracks”

  1. B. M. May 25, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    An absolute brilliant and stupendous rendering,will be an eye-opener for the IT Dept.

    Like

  2. John May 27, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    This is carrying our playing catch-up with China a bit too far. If not in growth, in censorship, we might give them competition. Good clear-eyed analysis as usual Sangeeta.

    Like

  3. Sanjukta Bhattacharya May 28, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    Way to go Sangeeta!

    Like

  4. Sandeep May 29, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    Well written, online piracy is also because the movies/book industry model is broken. Kindle books are outselling actual paperbacks. itunes is a behemoth. All this says something, if only the industry will listen.

    Like

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