[David Strom's Web Informant] August 28, 2012: Censoring Indian Communications

David Strom david at strom.com
Tue Aug 28 14:59:15 EDT 2012

Web Informant, August 28, 2012: Censoring Indian Communications

What would you do if the US Government shut down the entire text
messaging system for all business users who wanted to send out more
than five texts at one time? Think it would never happen? Well, not
right now in the States, but for the past several weeks this is the
case in India. The government feared that hate speech was being
transmitted via SMS and also shut down several Twitter users and
websites as well. When people complained, they changed the ban from
five to 20 concurrent texts, but as far as I know, the ban is still in

As I read these reports over the last week, I got chills running up my
back. And India is supposedly the world's largest democracy. With
close to a billion cell phone users, it probably has more technology
in one place than perhaps anywhere else. The stakes are high.

In July, "some multimedia messages and websites contained video
footage purposely doctored to incite violence. In some cases, altered
archival video was portrayed as contemporary footage from the
northeast [of India]", according to the IEEE Spectrum. The messages
led to a mass exodus from the northeast as people panicked, thinking
the violence was more widespread than it was.

The ban was for all commercial texts that had 5 (or 20) recipients:
individuals' texts weren't part of the ban but were limited to sending
no more than 25 KB of data through their mobile phones. The Indian
government has done this before two years ago, facing similar domestic

We Americans tend to take for granted our freedoms of speech and
freedoms of electronics. Most of us can access the Internet freely at
home and at work, and at any number of places in between: libraries,
coffee shops, even the jury assembly room where I am sitting right now
typing this out in downtown St. Louis. We expect that our Internet
access isn't filtered or blocked, and that we can say what we want
when we want with whatever device we choose to use.

And certainly it would take a lot of work to censor the Internet in
the USA: there are numerous ISPs and redundant pathways that would
have to be taken care of to truly isolate or block someone or
something, and then chances are someone else would find a work-around,
such as any number of data to SMS services that have been around for
several years (Google has one, for example). Senator Lieberman had
this crazy idea several years ago for a simple Internet kill switch:
it was nothing more than political rhetoric and he later backed away
from the characterization, although still insisting that the
government needed a way to turn off parts of the Internet during

There will always be bad actors using the Interwebs, and have been
since its invention and early use. We need to be more skeptical when
getting texts, emails, and Facebook requests and ensure that what is
being said is accurate before we pass it along to our own chain of

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