Banning blogs, a big blunder

Banning blogs, a big blunder

by Roopinder Singh

THE only thing worse than doing something wrong is to execute the deed ineptly. Some bureaucrats in the Government of India have managed to do both by stopping access to blogs on the Internet recently in the wake of the July 11 Mumbai bomb blasts.

The word blog is an abbreviation of Weblog, a Web page that is accessible to the public, and is often used as an online personal journal. You post a blog because you want to share information or express an opinion. The people who read your blog may do so because of curiosity, to get varied opinions on news, issues, and other matters, find persons with similar interests and ideas and for entertainment.

Blogs are interactive and visitors can post their message on your log, something that they can’t do on Web pages. There are lakhs of blogs, according to one estimate, over 50 lakh — some good, some bad, many disorganised and most very subjective.

Blogs are the latest way of sharing what you feel with others, and it is this freedom of expression, granted to Indian citizens under Article 19 of the Constitution that was seriously impaired when, in one fell swoop, the government managed to alienate Internet users, generate negative reactions from the media, both in India and abroad, and got itself in a position where it is unfairly being put in the same list as China and Pakistan, both of which have a history of censorship through the Internet.

‘Is your blog blocked in India, Pakistan, Iran or China?’ asked a website which then showed ways of outwitting the ban. It is ironic that this site had originally come up when Pakistan Telecom Authority blocked in February, 2005.

China makes no bones about controlling access to the Internet and periodically punishes persons who express political dissent through blogs and other means.

Indian bloggers are relatively new. If you type the words ‘India blogs’ on Google blog search, you will find 1,83,338 results. Of these, not more than top 50 are commonly visited. Most blogs start with great intentions, but are seen by only a few. Launching a blog is like casting a pebble in the vast cyber-blog ocean and hoping to see results.

Indian bloggers have, however, done a singular job during the tsunami and the Mumbai blasts by acting as an alternative means of communication and giving valuable information to the public. Many, like, had responded to the recent horror in Mumbai also by listing phone numbers of hospitals where victims were being taken, and the like.

It now transpires that the government had listed 18 blogs that posted extremist views. In a ham-handed attempt to block these 18, all blogs of such common sites as Blogger, Geocites and Typepad, have been blocked too. Blogs are one of the ways in which the people communicate. Should mobile phones, too, be blocked because terrorists certainly use these? What about mail? What about e-mail?

The focus should remain on identifying and arresting the terrorists, not the public services that lakhs of Netizens use. The security agencies should find those who are misusing facilities like blogs for illegal activities and punish them. They should not look for scapegoats, either in the real world, or in cyber world.

The Tribune, Thursday, July 20, 2006, Chandigarh, India