Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

India: Computer Illiterate

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

India: Computer Illiterate

Article excerpt

India may not be terrific at football, but it knows how to score an own goal. Its bureaucrats have done just that, with such a clumsy attempt to censor the internet that a vast range of blogs got blocked off--including a hugely popular and valuable exchange site for information about the bombings in Mumbai on 11 July.

The government says that it instructed internet service providers (ISPs) to close down a few pages on a few sites that were insulting to Islam--something the law entitles it to do in the interests of religious harmony. But due to what one official called a "technological error", the ISPs went further and switched off Indian access to whole international blogging sites and services such as Blogspot and TypePad.

The result has been a dreadful mess, with countless bloggers and readers cut off from each other and India cast either as an enemy of free speech or as computer-illiterate. Worse, what the officials wanted in the first place was bizarre, since one of the targeted sites was in Mandarin, another was about boredom and a third didn't deal with India at all.

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Inevitably internet users quickly worked out creative ways to reach the banned sites anyway (using, among other things, links with Pakistani bloggers)--a reminder that the smartest computer geeks tend to be working outside government.

Access to the sites and services is expected to be restored soon, but the damage to India's image may take a little longer to repair, as comparisons are now being made with China's draconian approach to the internet. …

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