INTELLIGENT COMPUTING CHIP
ven as we continue to increase our reliance on the Internet and put moreparts of our lives online, small incidents serve to illustrate how the delicatebalance between technology, governance, and the rights of the end userreally is. The things we take for granted can be swept away by any time, notjust because of a simple technical failure, but because of the whims of those in power.One evening in late July, a number of Indian Web users discovered that they’d beenlocked out of file sharing sites such as Rapidshare and Megaupload. A simple errormessage informed them that their ISPs had been forced by the Department of Telecomto block these sites. Speculation was rampant across Twitter and various websites, till itwas discovered that a Delhi High Court passed an order allowing a film distributor toprevent piracy of an unreleased movie, which the said company had used to scare ISPsinto blocking these sites. However, no one managed to produce the actual court order,or any part of it specifically authorizing such action. Users began reporting that differentISPs were blocking different sets sites, and some weren’t blocking any at all. There wasno public notice, no timeframe, and in fact no sense behind these blocks—it seemedthat the ISPs were merely following directions, scared they’d be sued for noncompliance, when in fact they have no way to specifically prevent individual files frombeing pirated and should have no responsibility for doing so either.And so, a random selection of perfectly legitimate services was blocked. Thousandsof people were denied service for undoubtedly valid purposes, while hundreds of otheronline storage sites were unaffected. There was also no effect on P2P networks,Torrent traffic, or any of the much more likely means of piracy that anyone would belikely to use. Proxy sites were unaffected, and many reported simple URL manipulationsworked—evidence of the ISPs’ ineptitude or hurry. Service was restored within days,again with no clear reason indicated. We might all laugh off the incident as a minorinconvenience, but it’s a dangerous precedent. Anyone with a vested interest—whethercorporate, moral or political—could do it properly next time, ensuring that more servicesare blocked, more tightly, and indefinitely. And what if our courts decide that ISPs are infact responsible for preventing piracy? Or that filters against pornography should be inplace to “protect Indian culture from Western influence”? They wouldn’t be able to liveup to terms like those without sweeping blocks on all kinds of services and functions.It’s happened before and continues to happen around the world: there havebeen blackouts due to political unrest in Africa and Europe, debates about trafficshaping and net neutrality in the USA, a proposed national pornography filter inAustralia, pressure against Wikileaks in the name of preserving various nations’security, the MPAA and RIAAs’ barrages of multi-million-dollar lawsuits, and ofcourse pretty much anything the powers that be in China disapprove of. In India,all it took was a court siding with a corporate interest. It's a slippery slope, andwithout clear government directions as to what courts, corporations and ISPsare and aren't allowed to do, we'll be at the mercy of their whims.