In a recent report, it has been revealed that Internet users in India may receive a three-year jail term along with Rs three lakhs as fine if they visit websites blocked by the government.
The Indian government, with support from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), have blocked numerous websites and URLs over the past few years but people do visit these websites, using varied techniques.
However, an India Today report said that users found visiting torrent sites blocked in India, downloading a file, or viewing inaccessible content might get users into serious trouble.
In a layman’s term, even if users don’t download a torrent file and view content on blocked sites, it's enough to put them behind bars apart from having to pay a fine of Rs three lakhs.
So what happens when you visit a blocked URL? We tried to visit one of the blocked websites http://uploadable.ch/ and here is the message we got: “This URL has been blocked under the instructions of the Competent Government Authority or in compliance with the orders of a Court of competent jurisdiction. Viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating an illicit copy of the contents under this URL is punishable as an offence under the laws of India, including but not limited to under Sections 63, 63-A, 65 and 65-A of the Copyright Act, 1957 which prescribe imprisonment for 3 years and also fine of upto Rs. 3,00,000/-. Any person aggrieved by any such blocking of this URL may contact at email@example.com who will, within 48 hours, provide you the details of relevant proceedings under which you can approach the relevant High Court or Authority for redressal of your grievance.”
Though some of the blocked sites showed a previous message indicating that the websites had been blocked by DOT and GOI, it seems the new scarier warning is fast replacing the older message.
Most websites in India were earlier blocked using (Domain Name System) DNS-filtering. But it was easy for users to bypass these blocks and access the website using third-party DNS services.
However, the government has now directed Internet ISPs in India to take further steps to bolster their blocking mechanism. The government has also taken the aid of big companies such as Tata Communications and Airtel to help them attain their ‘blocking’ goals.
The message, as pointed out by the report, clearly indicated that the Indian government is taking stern steps to ensure blockage of all URLs via Internet gateways. Tata Communications seems to be the one of the bigwigs managing the gateways right now.
Lack of clear guidelines
The message, which seems to be an idea of the government, is threatening but does not provide any clarity on how it would be enforced. Also, monitoring the web for such website viewers can prove to be quite a hefty task. It looks more like a ambiguous warning rather than an official message from the government, as nothing has been made clear about how a perpetrator would be dealt with.
While the step to block illegal websites is required, having no clarity on such a ominous message might be really dangerous if enforced wrongly . The fact that a person would be jailed and made to pay a fine for just viewing a blocked website seems unfair.
Even though the message seems unofficial, it is scary to think what might happen if the cops or enforcing bodies decide to follow up on a 'suspicious' individual.
Considering this scenario, Internet users in India need to be extremely careful while browsing the web and should try to stay clear of blocked websites.