Defender of your Digital Freedom

All Posts | Apr 24,2020

Using 2G to fight a Pandemic in a digital world

t was on the evening of August 4, 2019 that the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir plunged into unprecedented communication darkness. Telephone and Internet connections were snapped in the valley and the next day Article 370, which gave Kashmir a special status, was abrogated. This started the longest communication blockade in the history of a democracy, cutting off Kashmir virtually from the rest of the world. It took exactly 213 days for the Centre to partially restore the internet in the valley, with obsolete 2G technology. This inadequate move was preceded by white listing certain websites raising concerns about net neutrality as well. Both the moves which tantamount to internet suspension were in consonance with the government order, dated March 4, 2020, issued by the Principal Secretary, Home Department, Shaleen Kabra [Government Order No.Home -21(TSTS) of 2020]. Although various civil society organizations and individuals had requested the government to restore 4G Connection, the Principal secretary passed another order extending the previous order till 27th April 2020.

Kashmir Timeline - 1
Kashmir Timeline - 2

The world right now is dealing with an unprecedented situation called COVID-19 which has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. The pandemic of extreme contagious nature, has forced almost all the countries in the world to go on a lockdown. Till date there are above 20,00,000 cases in the world out of which more than 12,000 are in India. The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has recorded over 454 cases. COVID-19 which spreads exponentially through social contact, complete lockdown followed by self-isolation is said to be the only best measure against it. Most offices across the globe have shifted to remote work and meetings are being held virtually. Information to fight the pandemic is being circulated online, through Whatsapp bots, through video content, through advisories. It is 2020 and the world is digital, but Kashmir is still living at 250Kbps of speed. Information is a key tool to contain pandemic in view of no treatment or vaccine available. Crucial information if provided to doctors at the right time, can prevent them from making the same mistakes as has been made by the fraternity in other countries in containing the outbreak.

Generally, the internet speed required to perform day-to-day office work including video calls with screen sharing, sending emails with attachments, viewing videos; the internet speed on an average should be between 15-20Mpbs. The internet speed in Kashmir is currently 50 times less than the minimum desired speed.

We have put together some voices which we felt need to be heard to understand the gravity of the situation.

Shayan Banday, Engineer cum entrepreneur

Shayan, a technological engineer cum entrepreneur from Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir says that even though Kashmiri’s have 2G internet, how can one even call that ‘internet’ given its low-speed? In the words of Shyam, where a pandemic is on the rise and information dissemination is of crucial importance, an information blackout is awful. The need of the hour is for doctors to research and this research has to take place over the internet. He adds further that for Kashmiris with an abominable 2G internet, leisure activities such as streaming Netflix or Hotstar is a distant dream. The only imaginable streaming is of a 144p video in Youtube, that too with constant buffering. When one has to stay at home 24 hours in a day and has no access to the one activity the world has access to, Shyan says, it is bound to affect the mental health of every Kashmiri. One cannot read, download, stream, nothing. Forget leisure, the situation is so abhorrent that a Kashmiri student does not even have access to education. Since Kashmir was under blockade from 5th August 2019, all schools and universities were shut. While they opened merely in March, they were hardly functional for 10 days before the onset of the COVID-19 virus, forcing the entire country to go on lockdown. Shyam talks of how the world is now educating online, with the help of apps such as Zoom, Google Classrooms, etc. But with 2G internet, Kashmiris do not even have access to that. With this, it is evident how the absence of high-speed internet has made life in Kashmir horrid, such that it has been 9 months and a Kashmiri student has had all roads to education blocked.

Waseem Wani, a software engineer from the Jammu and Kashmir working in Uttar Pradesh

Now, with the country-wide 21 day COVID-19 lockdown, Waseem narrates how the mix of this lockdown and network problems in the valley have affected businesses for those, like himself, operating in Jammu and Kashmir. After the lockdown, his company, akin to others, ordered a shut-down and asked employees to work from home, he too headed back home to the valley. However, daily, he experiences a fall in his work efficiency. Since all work is done online, it often takes a lot of time to take note of applications or even watch a tutorial when needed. His company has mandated a google meeting everyday at 9:30am. However, for him, it takes a lot of time to connect with the people which builds to constant frustration. In fact, recently, all employees from his company had an important meeting with the CEO online. Because of network problems, he faced a lot of difficulty in connecting to the meeting. To add to the frustration, while he was only able to join midway, the call continued to constantly disconnect. This dangerous mix, thus, makes him feel very restricted, having an impact not only on his productivity but also his emotional wellbeing. He continues to narrate the danger of this interplay by talking of the impact on health workers and consequent information dissemination in the state. He states that recently, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare organised an online meeting for health workers to provide guidance on how to operate ventilators for critical patients affected by the COVID-19 virus. Pertinently, the network lockdown prevented the Kashmiri health workers from attending this important meeting. In fact, a prominent Kashmiri doctor reported to the media that while they wished to educate the Kashmiri people about the symptoms of COVID-19 and precautionary measures to be adopted, the low-speed internet barred them from doing something so crucial. He goes on to say that while students were badly affected even before the spread of the virus, their situation is gradually worsened, with access the education greatly hindered. Now, along with predominantly Kashmiri students, those who study outside the valley but have had to come home due to the lockdown are also suffering. While the world is operating on video-conferencing, low-speed internet has drastically impacted the functioning of these students, immensely impacting academics across the state.

Tanzeel Khan, Digital Rights activist

The problems that the people of the valley are facing are expansive and never-ending. For thousands of employees who have been asked to work from home, like Tanzeel himself, it is impossible to get any work done without high-speed internet. He says that attending video-conferences is not possible when you are connected to extremely slow internet. With the COVID-19 threat getting scarier day by day, for him and multiple others, continuing to work from home seems difficult. Further, dozens of businesses which rely solely on the internet have either shut down or moved to other places. Hundreds of people have lost jobs since the communications lockdown was imposed. He talks of how the people of Kashmir continue to remain unaware of the severity of COVID-19 since they do not have access to information online. He criticizes the government and says that in their recent order, they claimed that there is no hindrance to education and medical services due to restrictions on the internet. “But who would ask the people suffering from the ban on high-speed internet?” All schools across the country are shut down. Students of other states are anyway able to continue their education through classes online. But, he strikingly says, “Kashmir is the only place where the government ensures that there is a ban on offline as well as online education.” About 1.5 million students do not have access to online learning facilities. Moreover, with respect to medical facilities, as the COVID-19 cases in Kashmir multiply, the people in the valley do not have access to vital information which can save their lives and help stop the spread of the virus. Consequently, restricting internet access and free flow of information is running contrary to the global fight against COVID-19. While there have been numerous calls from a number of human rights organizations asking India to end this war crime and give people the right to access information and thus, the internet, there seems to be no end to this oppression. “Everything falls on deaf ears.” From his observation, he claims that there prevails a handicap of reportage of human rights violations committed by the armed forces. This is so because when there is no digital avenue available, nor any tools to propagate information, journalists and media houses have been rendered absolutely ineffective. He concludes by making a call to the Indian government to recognize the right to access information and put an end to the internet restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir.

Sayed Suri, Student and activist

He states that he remains outside of Kashmir right now for the past 4-5 years. Recently He discovered this situation when he had to return home without an idea for how long he will be in Kashmir. He talks about how his whole work is dependent on the internet because he has to do a lot of research. He talks about how academia is a completely IT based system. Everybody, from professors to staff communicate through the internet, basically through email. And the modem website is where everything is uploaded, from the course, schedules, guidelines and basically everything. He also talks about how he used social media to stay in touch with people who he can’t meet otherwise. He also states that he is also into social work and social activism. He states that the communication inter valley and outside the valley is completely blocked right now. He says that he reached Jammu and Kashmir on the 23rd of March, same time when the government said that most work should be done at home digitally, whether it is transaction or studies. In accordance, his university took out this notification and informed all the students that they will be having online courses for this semester and it will be held on Zoom. He states that from 23rd March till date he has not attended a single class. He has missed all the classes, even as he is not able to access the module page because on 2G network in Jammu and Kashmir. And sometimes if it may open, it takes 2-3 hours. Otherwise, mostly it says, “out of time” and goes back. He says that digitally handicapped losing out on his education. He says that he is losing all the information which he needs to get from the internet for reading and researching. He also expresses his frustration on not being able to transact digitally.

Yunus Rashid, regional spokesperson for the Jammu and Kashmir Student’s Association

He says that it is unfortunate that in the time of a pandemic, when the whole country is on lockdown and people are compulsorily staying inside their homes following proper advisories and precautions, Kashmir is without proper internet. With 2G speed, they are barely able to download videos or even find essential information about the COVID-19 virus, which is extremely crucial in these times. He talks of how this virus has impacted both students as well as medical practitioners across the valley. As a consequence of the abrogation of Article 370, Kashmiri students had to remain away from school for a period of 8 whole months. Now, as these students were ready to go back to school and resume education, the outbreak pushed them inside their homes once again, that too with just 2G internet. To battle this prolonged shut-down, while the teachers’ community, along the lines of the world, is trying to conduct classes online, conducting as well as attending these classes is a major task because of the slow-speed internet. Along with education, he talks of how doctors are also facing multiple problems. Recounting a recent experience, he quotes how a particular doctor in Kashmir had to wait for more than an hour to download a very important document on the COVID-19 virus. This is thus impacting information dissemination across the valley and thus, COVID-19 precautions and treatment also. Personally, Yunus tries his best to adjust to the slow-speed internet. Before sleeping at night, he puts the requisite file on download and checks for its completion in the morning. He talks of how naturally, this process is very disheartening. He, along with multiple others, continue to hope that 4G internet will be restored across the valley.

A professor who wishes not to be named talks about how it's difficult for the teachers to take online classes. Some record audio lectures and post them for students and sometimes post reading material. They basically find it very hard to look for ways to upload lectures and make them accessible to students on 2g.

A 1st Year Law student, Ramsha talks about how hard she has been finding to keep up with her classes. She usually connects to her classes via audio instead of video because of bandwidth issues. She points out how her university has been giving her a lot of assignments, projects and other research work and it's extremely difficult to keep up with the pace on 2g. She says that she eventually ends up spending the entire day studying because research takes double the normal amount of time and this makes the whole pandemic situation worse, mental health wise. Universities in Kashmir haven't been able to conduct semester exams because of the post August situation and her friends still haven't given their 1st semester exams and now they are struggling to keep up with online classes. Universities are proposing that they'll take both 1st and 2nd semester exams together once the situation improves.

Jammu Kashmir Circular

The above notice is an example of how there have been restrictions placed on thousands of government servants,

The apparent crisis is not what it seems, it is the disparity in such times which prolongs it.

When the majority of the world is witnessing a huge upswing in internet usage as the current global pandemic pushes a quarter of the world under lockdown, there are still regions apart from Kashmir which are going through information blackout with illegal internet shutdown orders by the authorities.

The Centre did restore the services, but partially, by restricting the internet access to 2G technology and continuing blockade of social media.

Myanmar's Rakhine province is also going through a similar fate. The Ministry of Transport and Communication directed the four major telecommunications service providers to block countless number of websites including legally registered ethnic media websites, in the name of combating misinformation over COVID.

Similarly, Bangladesh clamped down internet services in Cox's Bazar where 900,000 Rohingya refugees live.

When people around the world have been ordered to observe self-isolation, access to correct information and precautionary measures are the only life saving tools in the absence of any vaccine and treatment.


All Posts | Nov 15,2019

A Detailed Analysis of the Swami Ramdev v. Facebook Judgment

Statement: At SFLC.in we believe that ordering intermediary platforms to take down content globally, negatively impacts freedom of expression online, as different countries have different standards of speech. Such orders often require intermediary platforms to rely on automated filters and scan each uploaded content to check for its legality, which severely undermines the privacy of Internet users throughout the world. If global take downs become the norm, then the standard of speech on the Internet will reflect that of nations having the most regressive laws on free expression. We believe that civil society organisations, including industry leaders and experts must come together and form global alliances to assist courts and ensure that the Internet doesn’t become the bastion of regressive regimes. These orders, instead of taking away power, further concentrate authority in the hands of Internet giants, as speech determination on the Internet gets further delegated to private decision making. The risk of private censorship dictated by algorithms is known to suppress minority and marginalized groups, affecting the equalizing power of the Internet.

Our short note on the case can be found – here.

An Analysis of Swami Ramdev v. Facebook – The Existential Risk of Global Take Down Orders

Facebook has appealed the order before a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court, further reading - here.

Facts of the Case

The core of the matter involved certain content in the form of videos, which contained summaries of the book on Swami Ramdev (popularly known as Baba Ramdev) titled - ‘Godman to Tycoon – The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev’ by Priyanka Pathak Narain. This book, as part of separate litigation before the Delhi High Court (Swami Ramdev v. Juggernaut Books – CM (M) 556/2018), had been restrained from being published as the court held that it contained prima-facie defamatory content on Baba Ramdev. In the present case, the petitioners (Baba Ramdev and Patanjali Ayurved Ltd.) asked the court to issue a global take down order, for the defamatory content in question, to Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter and other unidentified Internet intermediaries (‘John Does’ or ‘Ashok Kumars’). They contested that since the content in question could be accessed from international versions of the platforms, a global blocking order ought to be passed.

None of the Internet platforms had any objection to remove the defamatory content from their India specific domains, but contested against removing the content from their global services.

Key Averments by the Parties

Petitioners (Ramdev and Patanjali)

Petitioners argued that once a defamatory book or article was printed or published, then the publisher of such book was liable for defamation. Relying on Supreme Court decision in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the petitioners contended that once a court had ordered content to be taken off, it was bound to be removed globally. They placed their reasons on various definitions of the computer resource, computer system, and computer network under the IT Act, 2000 (IT Act), to back their argument that there was nothing in the IT Act which stopped courts from giving global take down orders. They also stated that the platforms already had the technical capability to carry out global blocking, as they take content off globally based on their community guidelines and terms of use. The petitioners also clarified that details of the users who had uploaded the content weren’t specific enough for them to identify the individuals and reach out to them for taking down the videos.

Defendants (Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter)

  • Platforms were mere intermediaries and not publishers, they were not liable for third party content on their websites. They did not perform constant monitoring on their services for each upload.
  • Petitioners did not implead parties who had actually uploaded the content in question.
  • What constituted defamation differed from country to country and passing a global disabling order would be contrary to the principle of comity of courts and would result in conflict of laws.
  • Indian Courts, should not impose their own standards of speech internationally.
  • Public interest differs from one country to another and an Indian court’s perception of public interest ought not bind other jurisdictions.
  • Dissemination of views on the internet was an essential ingredient of freedom of speech and expression and the integrity of national judicial systems must be maintained.
  • Sec. 75 which provides for extra territorial jurisdiction was limited to contraventions and offences under the IT Act and defamation wasn’t covered by these provisions.
  • The court’s order should be proportionate to the alleged harm. The harm from a global injunction will be much higher.
  • The book in question was already available on various international platforms for sale.
  • Geo-blocking of content specific to India would be enough to take care of petitioner’s interests.

The Central Issue

Whether Internet intermediaries like Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter, in accordance with the prevailing jurisprudence in India on content take down [intermediary platforms were only liable to take down illegal content from their websites, when ordered by a court or appropriate government agency (as per Shreya Singhal)], were required to take down content locally (i.e. restricted to India) or globally?

The Court’s Order?

  • The court held that once content was uploaded ‘from India’ and was made available globally, the removal of such content (once ordered by a competent court) shall also be ‘world-wide’ and not just restricted to India.
  • The court ordered the intermediaries to take down the content (defamatory videos) globally, if they were uploaded from India. For uploads from outside India, the court ordered platforms to ensure that they use appropriate geo-blocking measures, so that users from India (Indian IP addresses) were unable to access the content.
  • The court allowed Baba Ramdev and Patanjali Ayurved to notify the platforms (notice and take down mechanism) in case offending material was discovered by them in the future (for take down either from India or globally, depending on from where the content was uploaded). In cases where the platforms disagreed, they could intimate their disapproval, after which the complainants would need to take the recourse of courts.

Court’s Rationale

  1. The crux of the court’s reasoning lies in the interpretation of Sec. 79(3)(b) read with the definitions of computer resource, computer system, and computer network, as per the IT Act. The court explained that according to the said provision, intermediaries were obligated to remove content from their platforms once ordered by a competent court. Such content was to be removed from the ‘computer resource’ controlled by the intermediary. Since the definition of ‘computer resource’ included within its ambit a ‘computer network’ - which wasn’t merely a single computer but encompassed a maze or a network of computers akin to a global computer network, the content must be taken off globally. Another reasoning which the court relied on was that since the defamatory content, though it was uploaded from India, was available throughout the world and thus once held to be illegal, must be taken off globally.
  2. The court held that any other interpretation would not give full effect to the intent of the IT Act or the judgment of the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal. Reiterating the principle upheld in Shreya Singhal, the court recognized that intermediaries shall not apply their own mind as to whether certain information should be blocked from their platform or not.
  3. As soon as certain content was uploaded from India and was made available globally, Indian courts attained jurisdiction for such content to be removed, not just from Indian domains, but globally.
  4. Based on an interpretation of Sec. 75 of the IT Act (which provides for extra territorial jurisdiction of the law), the court held that if content was uploaded from India or was located in India (can be accessed in India), Indian courts would have jurisdiction to pass global injunctions.
  5. On the question of technical feasibility of blocking content worldwide, the court relied on the reasoning that platforms took down information globally when their community guidelines were violated, thus having the capability to enforce such take downs.
  6. The court stated that once removal was ordered, it needed to be complete and not partial in nature. Geo-blocking could be easily circumnavigated by using VPN services, thus rendering the protection given to the aggrieved incomplete.
  7. The court reasoned that it needed to strike a balance between the right to free speech and expression and the right to privacy (of the aggrieved party in this instance), right to reputation, national security, and threats to sovereignty.


  1. The Computer Resource/ Computer Network and Global Uploads Argument

The court’s main reason to order for a global take down was based on an interpretation of Sec. 79(3)(b) read with the definitions of computer resource, computer system, and computer network, as per the IT Act. It stated that Sec. 79(3)(b) enabled courts to order take down of content residing in a computer resource and since the definition of computer resource included that of computer network (a network of computers connected globally), the said provision enabled global take downs. The court’s logic was based in the argument that since the illegal content in question was uploaded globally, when ordered to be taken down, it was required to be taken off globally and not nationally.

This argument has the following flaw:

  • The logic of the court that in the present context – computer resource (in terms of content take down) meant to be the global computer network maintained by the intermediaries, as when content was uploaded it was made available globally is deeply concerning. The Internet ecosystem is based on the idea of free flow of information and data across the world. The proliferation and growth of the Internet has made the world a smaller place because we can communicate in real time across physical boundaries. If we were to reverse the court’s logic – then only content accessible in India would be immune from a global take down order and any other content which was distributed on global systems of the Internet would be susceptible to global take downs. As the essential nature of the services offered by Internet intermediaries like Facebook was global and boundary-less, in order to comply with global take downs and different standards of speech around the world, Internet intermediaries may need to design country specific platforms, which will splinter the Internet and effectively erode the promise of the open Internet as we know it.
  1. Effect on Global Free Speech Online

The court did not consider the effects of global take down orders on free speech online.

As argued by the platforms, there are varying standards of free speech around the world. Taking down content globally might negatively impact the speech rights of both - users and platforms in other countries such as the United States. Complying with the law of one country might make them run foul of the law in another. If adopted as regular practice by courts around the world, global take down orders will pose a major threat to free speech on the Internet as online speech will get defined by the countries with the most restrictive regulations on free speech.

Despite arguments about balancing of rights, the court did not explain how ordering of a global take down was a necessary and proportionate response to defamatory content on social media platforms, specially when all platforms had agreed to geo-block the content in question from India. Setting a precedent for Indian courts to order global take downs from social media platforms in order to protect the reputation of a well known Indian citizen is a disproportionate response to the harm which would have been suffered by Baba Ramdev, if such a global take down order would not have been ordered.

  1. Future Uploads and Notice and Take Down

The court recognized that Internet intermediary platforms could not apply their own mind as to whether certain information was to be blocked or not unless ordered by court (as held in Shreya Singhal) but then went on to establish a new notice and take down and counter-notice regime (for this particular case) expanding the jurisprudence as laid in Shreya Singhal by the Supreme Court.

For future uploads of the defamatory content, the court allowed Baba Ramdev to directly approach the Internet platforms pointing to the URLs in question and platforms would need to take the content down. To safeguard platforms from abuse, the court allowed them to send a counter-notice if they disagreed, after which Baba Ramdev would need to approach the courts for regular legal relief. Though there is merit in this approach, as it gives platforms the chance to respond to notices, this is going beyond what is prescribed in Indian law and jurisprudence around content take down. As recognized by the court itself, according to Shreya Singhal, platforms cannot apply their own judgment in determining what is legal or not. There may be chances of both over-censorship and untimely take down of defamatory content (with respect to this specific case) if private parties are to decide what is legal speech.

  1. The VPN Conundrum

One of the reasons the court did not accept the platforms’ arguments on geo-blocking being sufficient was due to the availability of VPN and web proxy services, using which users could access global versions of Internet platforms, thereby rendering geo-blocking ineffective. The court said that it could not get partial relief and for complete protection, a global take down was necessary. Thus, the court ordered that the defamatory content in question, which had been uploaded from India had to be taken down globally, but if the content was uploaded from outside India, the platforms would need be required to geo-block that content with respect to India.

The issue with this reasoning is, that users wanting to upload/ download the defamatory content , could continue to do it while using a computer in India by making use of VPN services. For illustration purposes – If X wanted to upload the defamatory content onto YouTube sitting in India after the court order (i.e. once the platforms had removed the content from their websites), they could mask their IP address using a VPN service to a country that was not India, say the United States. Once the content has been uploaded onto YouTube from another country it could subsequently only be blocked for access within India (as per the court’s order). Subsequently, when the content gets blocked from access in India, X or any other user from India could use a similar VPN service, mask its IP and continue to view the content on YouTube.

Thus, the court’s argument that a global take down was necessary due to availability of VPN services is erroneous as such services could continue to be utilized to both upload and download the content in question. The court did not consider such a scenario before arriving at its decision and a global blocking order was a disproportionate response to the question of accessibility of the video using VPN services.

  1. Sec. 75 – Extra Territorial Application of the IT Act

Relying on Sec. 75 of the IT Act the court stated that as long as uploading of content takes place from India or information is located in India on a computer resource, Indian courts would have jurisdictions to pass global injunctions.

Sec. 75 gives the IT Act extra territorial jurisdiction with respect to offences or contraventions committed outside India. Offences are covered under the IT Act from Sec. 65 to 67C and contraventions are covered under Sec. 43 and 43A of the Act.

Firstly, none of these provisions cover the activity of publishing or making available defamatory content. Secondly, as intermediary platforms by their definition are not publishers and enjoy safe-harbour protection for content uploaded by third parties (as per Sec. 79 of the IT Act and recognized by court) they cannot be said to have committed any contravention or offence under the IT Act. Therefore, the reasoning of the court that Sec. 75 enabled courts to order global take downs was misplaced.

  1. Global take downs and the CJEU

The Court of Justice of the European Union (EU’s top court) recently delivered two judgments, both which approved the ability of EU member nations to order global take downs after proper assessment.

In Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v. Facebook Ireland Ltd. the CJEU while assessing a similar case of defamation and whether defamatory content could be ordered to be take down globally approved the authority of EU member nations to issue global take down orders. In this case the EU court also approved monitoring obligations on platforms like Facebook for ‘specific content’. This judgment is a blow to the online privacy rights of EU citizens due to the monitoring requirement.

36. Given that a social network facilitates the swift flow of information stored by the host provider between its different users, there is a genuine risk that information which was held to be illegal is subsequently reproduced and shared by another user of that network.”

Fortunately, in the present case, the Delhi High Court did not order for a general or specific monitoring requirement for future uploads, which would have disastrous for privacy rights of Internet users around the world.

In another recent case - Google v. CNIL, the CJEU refused to order for de-refrencing of links from Google’s global service due to difference in ‘right to be forgotten’ laws around the world. The court also stated that a balance needs to be struck between privacy and free speech. But the court went on to clarify that EU law does not specifically prohibit global take downs.

(SFLC.in intervened in this case)

We’ve written about the Google v. CNIL case – here.

In another case in Canada (Google Inc. v. Equustek Solutions Inc., 2017), where Google was asked to de-index listings for protection of trade secret rights of a subject from its global versions and it refused to do so, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Google and ordered a global take down requiring the search engine to de-index the relevant listings from its global versions. Though Google got preliminary relief on the Canadian Supreme Court judgment from a California court, the Supreme Court of British Columbia (Canada) refused to reverse the previous decision.

(SFLC.in intervened in this case)

Our comprehensive report on Intermediary Liability can be read – here.

The Delhi High Court relied on all these international judgments while arriving at its decision, illustrating how decisions on Internet governance from around the world drive the thinking of Indian courts as these novel issues crop up around the world.

We believe that civil society and experts from around the world need to come together and ensure that courts are provided proper assistance on law, technology and Internet policy so that they are able to appreciate these problems better and deliver decisions after analysing potential harms to users. Due to the global influence of such judgments on courts of the world, there is a growing need for global coordination of civil society members from around the world.

You can download and read the judgment here:

All Posts | Apr 12,2019

A ‘Digital Rights Reform Agenda’ for India – What Have Political Parties Missed Out this Election Season?

Yesterday, India entered 7-phases of national elections spanning a little over a month. This election season, we bring to you a ‘Digital Rights Reform Agenda’ which is missing from most political parties’ promises and manifestos. We believe that these topics should be on the agenda list of all political outfits in India claiming a stake on parliament seats. A list of key digital rights issues worthy of political importance are (more…)

All Posts | Dec 18,2018

Read me not: List of banned books in India

Over the years India has seen various books being banned for several reasons, ranging from defamation to offending religious sentiments of a community. The law commonly used to ban books/ prevent sale and production of certain books is Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which confers powers on the State Government to ban a book if a book contains content that may "promote, or attempt to promote, enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, or disharmony, or feeling of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious groups and the publication of such matters is punishable under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code." Section 153A of IPC provides punishments for acts which promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, among others.

We have curated a list that contains books that have been banned in India since independence of India, the data for which has been gathered from secondary sources mainly.

A lot of times, instances of censorship and banned books are not reported by the media, and therefore we are creating a citizen reporting mechanism. Write to us at mail@sflc.in or send us a DM on our twitter handle (@SFLCin) if you come across any book that has been banned in India.



Name of the book






Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev

Priyanka Pathak



It was banned on the ground that it was extremely defamatory in nature for the protagonist.



Perumal Murugan

Previously banned,currently available on E-Commerce websites.


It was alleged that the book contained materials that hurts the sentiments of the community, defamed women and outraged religious feelings. Subsequently after several protests, the author withdrew all the unsold copies of this novel. Petition were filed in the Madras High Court in order to ban the book but the petition was dismissed and book didn’t got banned.1



Joe D’Cruz





Sahara: The Untold Story

Tamal Bandyopadhyay



A stay order was ordered on the release of this book by the Calcutta High Court. Though the book was released, but with a disclaimer given by Sahara.


The Descent of Air India

Jitendra Bhargava



The author who worked for almost two decades with Air India brings out his insider view about the ground reality of the company. All the book was withdrawn later on by the publisher because of defamation charges.


Santsurya Tukaram and Loksakha Dnyaneshwar

Anand Yadav



A magistrate in Pune ordered to destroy the copies of these two novels which is based on the lives of Sant Dnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram. It was alleged that the contents of these novels were defamatory.2


The Hindus: An Alternative History

Wendy Doniger



The book was withdrawn from the Indian market, prompting widespread concerns about the state of free speech in India. But after a period of twelve months, the book was republished under a different publisher.



Yogesh Master



Several Hindu organisations protested against this book and accused it to contain objectionable materials against god Ganesha.


Meendezhum Pandiyar Varalaru

K. Senthil Mallar


Tamil Nadu

It was alleged that certain contents in this book was abusive against other castes and in the nature of spreading hatred and disharmony. SO, the Madras HC ordered to make alterations in the book and lifted the forfeiture.3


Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India

Joseph Lelyveld



It was interpreted and suggested in this biographical book that M.K. Gandhi was bisexual. Whereas according to the author the book only says that he was deeply attached to Kallenbach and did not explicitly stated that Gandhi was bisexual.4


The Red Sari

Javier Moro



Originally published in Spanish by the name ‘El Sari Rojo’, this book was alleged to be violating the privacy of a person for monetary gain. However, it was released in India in Jan, 2015 as it was not officially banned.


Such a Long Journey

Rohinton Mistry



Withdrawn by the Mumbai University from its Bachelor of Art (English) syllabus. The book allegedly contained anti-Shiv Sena passages and remarks derogatory to Maharastrians.5


Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence

Jaswant Singh



Banned for containing defamatory references to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.6


The Life of Sri Aurobindo

Peter Heehs



It was alleged that the book contains objectionable matters depicting distorted facts about the life and character of Sri Aurobindo. In 2004, a stay order was passed by the Odisha High Court on the release of the book.


Islam: A Concept of Political World Invasion

R.V. Bhasin



SC upheld the ban and said that the author had used insulting comments on Muslim community, which is an aggravated form of criticism and can hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims.7


The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown



It was alleged that the novel could hurt the sentiments of the Christian beliefs. Ban was rejected by SC and several HCs .


The True Furqan

Al Saffee & Al Mahdee



Islamic groups declared the book as a Christian propaganda and claimed that it slyly mocked at Islam. Some even claimed it was a US-Israel pact to insult Islam.

Though it was essentially a Christian world versus Islam phenomenon, the Indian government took exception to it and banned its import.8


Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India

James Laine



In 2004, this book was banned as it contained disparaging remarks about Chhatrapati Shivaji. But the ban was lifted in 2010 by the Supreme Court.9



Tasleema Nasreen


West Bengal

Banned by the West Bengal government.10



Taslima Nasreen


West Bengal

Banned for allegedly hurting the sentiments of the Muslim community. On 22nd September, 2005, the Calcutta High Court lifted the ban.11


Five Past Midnight in Bhopal

Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro



The book was banned after Swaraj Puri, the commissioner of Bhopal during that period, filed a defamation suit. Later, the ban was lifted by the Madhya Pradesh high court.12


Bhavsagar Granth

Written by amost 30 authors under the direction of Baba Bhaniara



Banned by the Punjab government for hurting the religious feelings of Sikh community.13


The Myth of the Holy Cow

Dwijendra Narayan Jha



The book allegedly said that beef was eaten by ancient Indians. The author received anonymous threat calls and had to be provided a police escort.14


Towards Freedom

Sumit Sarkar and K.N. Panikkar



The publication of this book was temporarily withheld by the ICHR in 2000 because it portrayed Hindu Maha sabha in a bad light.


The Moor’s Last Sigh

Salman Rushdie



The Indian government placed a de facto ban on the novel, claiming that the fictional Ramar Fielding seemed to be a thinly veiled version of Bal Thackeray, one of India's most prominent Hindu nationalist politicians. But later in 1996, the ban was lifted by the Supreme Court.15


Understanding Islam through Hadis

Ram Swarup



It tackles the issues of political Islam. It was claimed that the book was offensive to Muslims.16


Basava Vachana Deepti

Mate Mahadevi



It was banned because she changed Basavanna’s pen name from ‘Kudalasangama Deva’ to ‘Linga Deva’.17


Soft Target: How the Indian Intelligence Service Penetrated Canada

Zuhair Kashmeri & Brian McAndrew



The authors argue that Indian intelligence agencies, determined to discredit the Sikh bid for an independent state, penetrated not only Sikh communities but also the RCMP and CSIS. The book claims the government of India was involved in the plane's bombing.18


The Polyester Prince: The Rise of Dhirubhai Ambani

Hamish McDonald



Unofficial biography of late Dhirubhai Ambani. Banned for being slanderous against the Ambani family. Never got published in India.19


The Satanic Verses

Salman Rushdie



Banned by Rajiv Gandhi’s government.


Smash and Grab: Annexation of Sikkim

Sunanda K. Dattaray



The book dealt with India's annexation of Sikkim. The Delhi High Court had stopped its publication after a political officer station in Gangtok at the time filed a defamation suit. The book was later allowed for release.20


The Price of Power: Kissinger and Nixon in the White House

Seymour Hersh



Banned for suggesting that Morarji Desai was a CIA informant.21


Who Killed Gandhi

Lourenco De Sadvandor



Considered to be “poorly researched” and “inflammatory”.22


India Independent

Charles Bettelheim



Banned for criticizing the policies of the Indian government.23


Nehru: A Political Biography

Michael Edwards



Government considered grievous factual errors in this book.24


Early Islam

Desmond Stewart



The book purportedly contains grievous factual errors.25


Man from Moscow

Greville Wynne



The book was banned for purportedly misrepresenting Indian policies.26


A Struggle between two lines over the question of How to deal with U.S. imperialism.

Fan Asid-Chu



This book cannot be imported into India.


The Jewel in the Lotus

Allen Edwardes



Import prohibited absolutely.27


Lady Chatterley’s Lover

D.H. Lawrence



Banned on the grounds of obscenity.28


An Area of Darkness

V.S. Naipaul



Banned for its negative portrayal of India and its people.29


Unarmed Victory

Bertrand Russell



The book dealt with the Sino-Indian War which India lost.30



Toni Hagen



Not much info. is available



Kurt Frischler



Cannot be imported into India.


Nine Hours to Rama

Stanley Wolpert








Nationwide ban

The book was thought to be justifying the actions of Nathuram Godse who murdered Gandhi.


The Lotus and the Rama

Arthur Koestler



Criticized the Indian democracy. It cannot be imported into India. Also, this book has often been criticized as ill-researched.32


The Heart of India

Alexander Campbell


Nationwide ban

The book is a fictionalized and humorous account of Indian bureaucracy and economic policy-making.


Captive Kashmir

Aziz Beg




This book cannot be imported into India.


Rama Retold or The Ramayana (American edn.)

Aubrey Menen



It was a play which was a spoof of The Ramayana.33


Dark Urge

Robert W. Taylor



This book cannot be imported into India.


What has religion done for mankind

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society



This book tries to refute Eastern religions and cannot be imported into India.34


Bhupat Singh

Kaluwank Ravatwank



Not much info. is available



Maulana Muhammad Sadiq Hussain Sahab Sadiq Siddhiqui Sardanvi



Written in Urdu, cannot be imported into India.35



Ansar Nasiri





Pakistan-Pasmanzarwa Peshmanzar

Hameed Anwar






Originally written in Urdu, cannot be imported into India.36



Agha Babar



Originally written in Urdu, cannot be imported into India.


Khak Aur Khoon

Naseem Hijazi



This book portrays the true face of the Hindu fanaticism at the time of Independence when the Hindus tried to rob the Muslims who were trying to escape to Pakistan during the partition.






5The Guardian, “Mumbai University drops Rohinton Mistry novel after extremists complain”, See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/oct/19/mumbai-university-removes-mistry-book, last accessed on May 17, 2018

6The Hindu, “You can’t read this book”, See: http://www.thehindu.com/books/you-cant-read-this-book/article2953626.ece, last accessed on May 17, 2018




10Scoop Woop, “10 Books that were banned in India for various reasons”, See: https://www.scoopwhoop.com/inothernews/books-banned-in-india/#.sr5xttgtu, last accessed on May 17, 2018









19The Economic Times, “Some books that met a ‘banned’ fate in India”, See: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/slideshows/advertising-marketing/some-books-that-met-a-banned-fate-in-india/slideshow/30518943.cms, last accessed on May 17, 2018


21The Times of India, “Top 10 banned books in India”, See: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/books/nine-hours-to-rama-by-stanley-wolpert/photostory/58144882.cms, last accessed on May 17, 2018

22 The Indian Express, “Who Killed Gandhi’: PIL in Bombay HC seeks revocation of ban on book”, See: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/who-killed-gandhi-pil-in-bombay-hc-seeks-revocation-of-ban-on-book-on-gandhis-assassination-5014992/, last accessed on May 17, 2018

23The Hindu, “You can’t read this book”, See: http://www.thehindu.com/books/you-cant-read-this-book/article2953626.ece, last accessed on May 17, 2018

24Business Standard, “Nilanjana S Roy: Banned books in India: 1970s-2006”, See: http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/nilanjana-s-roy-banned-books-in-india-1970s-2006-106053001122_1.html, last accessed on May 17, 2018.





29The Economic Times, “Some books that met a ‘banned’ fate in India”, See: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/slideshows/advertising-marketing/some-books-that-met-a-banned-fate-in-india/slideshow/30518943.cms, last accessed on May 17, 2018








All Posts | Aug 08,2018

Social Media Communications Hub: A Privacy Nightmare

On April 25, 2018 the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting released a bid document (“SMCH Bid Document”) stating its intent to establish a Social Media Communication Hub (“SMCH”) which would enable processes such as analyzing large volumes of data across diverse digital platforms in real time, comprehensive analytics along with monitoring and analyzing social media communications etc.

The proposal was challenged in the Supreme Court by Trinamool Congress MP, Mahua Moitra and was subsequently withdrawn by the Government, as informed by the Attorney General, Mr. K.K Venugopal on August 3, 2018.

There were multiple points of concern regarding this SMCH Bid Document, some of which have been addressed hereunder :

1. Establishment of a Surveillance State

The SMCH Bid Document goes on to define how a “technology platform is needed to collect Digital media chatter from all core Social Media Platforms as well as digital platforms” and should further support “creation of a 360 degree view of the people who are creating buzz across various topics.” The technology is required to have the capability to “listen” for and collect data not only from social media platforms but also from email. The ability to “Monitor individual social media user/ account” is a specific mandate being given to the service provider. Based on this, the software should be able to “identify influencers” and “see historic conversation of each user in a reverse chronological manner along with the ability to merge conversations across channels.” This clearly is a step in the making of a surveillance state, where every activity of every citizen on any social media platform will be monitored, analyzed, studied and reported. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, while hearing a Public Interest Litigation moved by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislator Mahua Moitra seeking a stay on the establishment of the Hub commented that, “If the government starts tapping WhatsApp messages, we will be moving towards becoming a surveillance state.”[fn]https://www.livemint.com/Politics/Dg8XuocPJe7fYWPn8kSo9N/SC-likens-govt-social-media-hub-to-surveillance-state.html [/fn]

Intrusion to privacy can be in any form, including through devices or technological aids. Every individual is entitled to be in a state of repose and to work without being disturbed, or otherwise observed or spied upon. Surveillance by the state cannot be such as to squeeze the fundamental freedoms guaranteed to all citizens or to obstruct the free exercise and enjoyment of those freedoms; nor can it be so as to intrude or offend the dignity of an individual.[fn] Malak Singh v. State of Punjab and Haryana (1981) 1 S.C.C. 420[/fn] What is fearsome is the present technological age which has the capacity of making surveillance even more convenient. That is why, in the recent Privacy judgement, the Supreme Court observed that surveillance is not new, but technology has permitted it in ways that are unimaginable. [fn] Justice K.S. Puttaswamy(Retd) v. Union Of India, (2017) 10 S.C.C. 1[/fn]


2. Legality of the SMCH

Hon’ble Justice Chandrachud in the Privacy judgement laid down a threefold requirement for

any law to put a restriction on the privacy of an individual; these requirements were as follows:


  1. There must be a law in existence to justify an encroachment on privacy;

  2. The requirement of a need, in terms of a legitimate state aim, ensured that the nature and content of the law which imposed the restriction fell within the zone of reasonableness mandated by Article 14; and

  3. The means which were adopted by the legislature were proportional to the object and needs sought to be fulfilled by the law.


In the backdrop of these threefold requirements, the SMCH fails on all fronts; (1) The SMCH is not created by any legislative authority, in fact, the Social Media Communication Hub will be housed under the New Media Cell which has itself not been created by any statutory enactment but by a notification dated December 19, 2013 bearing No. A-50013/167/2013-Admn.IV which merely notes that it is to, “disseminate the information through newly emergent social media and concurrent media”. Hence, the Social Media Communication Hub is an extralegal body being created without statutory backing; (2) the SMCH is not, by any stretch of imagination, a reasonable action and there is a very fair chance of it being used it an arbitrary manner ignoring any moral or legitimate state aims; (3) this action of mass surveillance and strike on an individual’s right of privacy under the garb of a SMCH is by no means proportional to the government’s “a Social Media Hub to facilitate information flow regarding its policies and programmes through social media platforms i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc.” stance.


3. Censorship

The SMCH Bid Document[fn] Request for Proposal bearing RFP Ref No: BECIL/Social Media/MIB/02/2018-19 dated 24.04.2018[/fn] explained that it is looking for a tool that would have the capacity to provide inputs to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.[fn] Page 28, Request for Proposal bearing RFP Ref No: BECIL/Social Media/MIB/02/2018-19 dated 24.04.2018.[/fn] This tool was required to do a predictive analysis and find out how public perception could be moulded in a positive manner for the country and how nationalistic feelings could be inculcated in the masses.[/fn] Page 34, Request for Proposal bearing RFP Ref No: BECIL/Social Media/MIB/02/2018-19 dated 24.04.2018.[/fn] These practices of the State, amongst others, would essentially lead to indirect censorship.

The pith of the SMCH seems to be one, to benefit and promote the welfare of the citizens by gauging public opinion on a specific scheme, making people aware of their rights and promoting India on a countrywide level. This objective would be impossible to achieve when citizens know and feel that their true thought could have direct or indirect consequences against them. The Supreme Court has explained that privacy has both positive and negative content. While the negative content restrains the State from committing an intrusion upon the life and personal liberty of a citizen, its positive content imposes an obligation on the State to take all necessary measures to protect the privacy of the individual.[fn]Justice K.S. Puttaswamy(Retd) v. Union Of India, (2017) 10 S.C.C. 1[/fn]

It is further pertinent to note that Article 19(2) of the Constitution lays down certain grounds under which censorship is permissible, viz., sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. However, the SMCH does not fall under any of these heads of reasonable restrictions, and thus it would be an illegal/invalid censorship.

In an India where people know that they are being profiled based on the influence they carry and the thoughts they put out in their public or private social space, where people are afraid to voice their real opinions fearing that if their opinion is anything but the “correct” one, they will face direct and indirect penalties by a government elected by themselves; whether intended or not, censorship and chilling effect is but an obvious consequence of such a SMCH.


4. Limited Government

Once the Constitution is regarded as the supreme law and the powers of all the other organs of government are considered as limited by its provisions, it follows that not only the legislature, but also the executive, and all administrative authorities, are equally limited by its provisions, so that any executive or administrative act which contravenes the provisions of the Constitution must, similarly, be void and the Courts must invalidate them.[fn]D. D. Basu. “Commentaries on The Constitution of India”, p. 165, Vol. I. 1955.[/fn] Notably, even the Supreme Court has expressly stated that the principle of limited government is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.[fn] Keshavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 S.C.C. 225[/fn]

However, through the SMCH, the government is trying to cross and abuse the threshold which the Constitution grants it. The SMCH, without any safeguards in place, would be open to abuse not only by the government but also the private entity that is tasked with its management. There is no limit to which such an open system can penetrate into the life of an individual if the controlling agent is a hostile entity. Free and open targeting, profiling people are unfortunately a very real possibility with such a system in place. Such profiling can result in discrimination based on religion, ethnicity and caste; and this would be against the spirit of the constitution.[fn] Keshavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 S.C.C. 225[/fn] The tenets of our Constitution prohibit such discrimination by any authority much less the government.


5. Data Protection Laws for Big Data

Through the SMCH Bid Document, the Government aims and plans to create a technology platform to collect Digital media chatter from all core Social Media Platforms as well as digital platforms like news, blogs and forums along with a proprietary Mobile Insights platform in a single system providing real time insights, metrics and other valuable data. Specific capabilities of the tool, mentioned, include live search, monitoring, collecting, indexing and storage of personal data including location-based data and “meta-data”. By doing so, the Government will collect large amount of data in one place. The platform will be deployed in the private data centre and will need to integrate with the mobile platform database for a seamless view across all data platforms.[fn] Page 28, Request for Proposal bearing RFP Ref No: BECIL/Social Media/MIB/02/2018-19 dated 24.04.2018[/fn]. Therefore, the data to be collected is going to be in the possession and control of a private agency.

‘Informational privacy’ is an important aspect of the right to privacy that can be claimed against state and non-state actors. The right to informational privacy allows an individual to control and protect information about herself and prevent it from being disseminated.[fn] Justice K.S. Puttaswamy(Retd) v. Union Of India, (2017) 10 S.C.C. 1[/fn] However, what is worrisome about the SMCH, is that there is no framework/ system for the protection of this database. Collection of information about an individual using web crawlers to create a 360-degree-profile cannot be permitted since India does not have appropriate laws to handle such a project.

The importance of the need for a data protection framework has also been recognised by the Justice Srikrishna Committee and a draft bill and a report have also been published. Clearly, a new and comprehensive legislation will be needed to make specific rules pertaining to big data without which collection of data at such a large scale would be a very risky exercise. The Data Protection Framework, which provides for a comprehensive data protection regime for India is still under process and without the protection of the same, initiating the SMCH is untenable.


6. Alternate Means

There is no doubt that a SMCH would help analyze public opinion much better than any system India has previously seen but the fundamental question here is whether such an initiative is needed? There are various already existing ways by which the government can gauge public opinion such as polls, tweets, opinion pieces, publically available articles, interviews, state elections etc. Television debates, newspapers, radio shows also provide a taste of how people are perceiving schemes of the government.

Given the fact that every citizen has a fundamental right to privacy and complete freedom of speech and expression, the SMCH seems like a major infringement to the privacy of the people of the country and especially one which the government can do without.


7. Data Misuse

The SMCH Bid Document requires the vendor to not only create the software but also execute it through manpower deployment that extends beyond technical support to various functions of collection of data, analysis and publication. This is to be implemented by a team of Social Media Executives (SMEs) who are private persons employed by a third party service provider handling sensitive personal data of individuals including their 360 degree profiles who are to act under the guidance and directions of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.

To imagine the misuse of such a software which keeps a track of and monitors social media profiles of every internet user in India is unfathomable. Extortion, forced resignations, severe tampering of the democratic process, are just a few of the unimaginable ways in which such software system could be misused. Besides, the entire process would bring personal sensitive data of individuals in direct control of private players.


8. Misinformation and Propaganda

The stated intent, as per the SMCH Bid Document, is to try to influence social media conversations. This purpose is clearly set out in the RFP in the part titled as, “predictive analysis” as, “how could the public perception be moulded in positive manner for the country, how could nationalistic feelings be inculcated in the masses, how can the perception management of India be improved at the world, how could the media blitzkrieg of India’s adversaries can (sic) be predicted and replied/neutralized, how could the social media and internet news/discussions be given a positive slant for India.”

In the age when the severity of fake news has risen to such an extent that they have become the basis of lynching of people either due to their food preference or religion or other factors etc.; it is unfathomable that the control SMCH will give to the government to not only study its citizens to a micro-managerial granular level but tailor (fake?) news to something that will speak to them at either an individual or district level. Not forgetting that the government has also specified in this tender document a response analysis of each post in a certain area before it is even posted. This would indeed be the end of a democratic unbiased election as we know it.


9. Threat to Democracy

The SMCH Bid Document states that the software must “Measure the effectiveness of hashtag campaigns and compare the performance of brand campaign with competitors by ingesting relevant keywords” and the Social Media Command Centre should provide real-time monitoring of competitors. If the platform was intended to be used only by the MIB solely for the purpose of monitoring social welfare schemes, the question of competitors would not arise.

The social media analytical tool would ‘listen’ to conversations on all major digital channels. More significantly, it would also be able to monitor email. The SMCH Bid Document lists “Monitoring individual social media user/account’ as one of the requirements of the project which can very easily be misused to analyze, spot and possibly target user’s behavior and sentiment and subsequently target individuals who criticise the policies and methods of the government.

The SMCH Bid Document also requires capabilities to “mould public perception” in a “positive manner” for the country and inculcate “nationalistic sentiments”, as well as counter the “media blitzkrieg” of India’s adversaries. An automated system that analyzes unfathomable amounts of data on an everyday basis to further the propaganda of the existing government will result in the termination of democracy.


10. No Adjudicating Authority

Currently, no specific or specialized authority is tasked with issues which arise from the Information Technology Act, 2000. The Cyber Appellate Tribunal, India’s only specialized body to adjudicate cyber law matters has been defunct since 2011[fn] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/india-s-only-cyber-appellate-tribunal-defunct-since-2011/story-208HGrEN7hXrABg7lAb69N.html[/fn] and in the absence of an express body to check the scope, use and misuse of such a database strictly, there is no doubt that this SMCH could be misused against anyone either by way of opinion manipulation, restriction of free speech and expression, leaking a person’s personal details so collected with the victim having no specialized body for redressal.

Without an express need and weighing the SMCH against the Puttaswamy judgement combined with the lack of appropriate legislation and lack of a redressal mechanism, coupled with the possibility of grave misuse, the SMCH was a privacy nightmare and has been rightly withdrawn. Polls, tweets, opinion pieces, publicly available articles, interviews, state elections, among other things. should be enough of an understanding exercise for the government to understand the mood of the people lest an initiative to promote better democracy becomes the end of it.


All Posts | Jul 14,2018

RTI reply from Rajasthan Home Department reveals 26 unreported Internet Shutdowns

We at SFLC.in have been tracking incidents of Internet shutdowns across India in an attempt to draw attention towards the number and frequency of shutdowns, which are imposed for reasons ranging from curbing unrest to preventing cheating during examinations. This data is made publicly available in the form of an interactive Internet Shutdown Tracker hosted on our dedicated website www.internetshutdowns.in, which also features additional resources on the topic. (more…)

All Posts | Oct 09,2017

[RTI] 23030 websites/URLs currently blocked in India

According to the Cyber Laws and E-Security Group under Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology Group (MeitY), as many as 23,030 websites /URLs are currently blocked in India.

This information was received as a reply to a Right to Information application filed by us on August 28, 2017.

The following information was sought in the RTI application:

1) Number of websites / URLs currently blocked in India.

2) Names and URLs of the websites that are blocked.

3) Copies of blocking orders issued by the Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications to block such websites.

The reply to the RTI application was received by us on Oct 6, 2017, wherein only the specific number of blocked websites / URLs was provided with. The rest of the information was denied on the basis of Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 which says that strict confidentiality shall be maintained regarding all the blocking requests and complaints received and actions taken thereof.

The response to the RTI application is provided below.

All Posts | Aug 12,2017

The Internet Archive is among 2650 websites blocked for copyright infringement

The Internet Archive – a non-profit initiative that has been archiving online content like web pages, books, text, audio, video, images, and software since 1996 – has become one of the latest casualties in the Indian movie industry’s crusade against online piracy. As of August 8, 2017, http://archive.org along with 2649 other URLs has been blocked from public access across the country pursuant to orders issued by the Madras High Court (available here and here). The orders were issued in connection with civil suits filed against 37 ISPs, 5 cable operators and 8 unknown defendants (impleaded as “Ashok Kumar” – the Indian equivalent of “John Doe”) by Red Chillies Entertainment and Prakash Jha Productions (respective producers of Jab Harry Met Sejal and Lipstick Under My Burkha), alleging copyright infringement of their works.

Users in some regions have reported being able to access the website still, and the “https” version of the site continues to be accessible for all at the time of writing this post, but most users trying to access the website are simply shown the message “Your requested URL has been blocked as per the directions received from Department of Telecommunications, Government of India. Please contact administrator for more information.” Interestingly, the Internet Archive was reportedly blocked once before in late 2014/early 2015 as part of a larger group of websites for unknown reasons, but this block was subsequently reversed.

This instance of overbroad censorship is a disturbing development for many reasons, not the least important of which is that the Internet Archive, specially its web page archiving component – the Wayback Machine, has been a very useful tool in ensuring accountability amongst public officials and others. The Wayback Machine allows users to browse over 302 billion screenshots of web pages taken over the past two decades, enabling them to see what a web page looked like on a particular date and even to view content that may since have been altered or removed. Moreover, it is most unfortunate that Indian copyright law has lent itself to misuse by overzealous litigants who seek to block large portions of the Internet over alleged copyright infringements, and by courts that readily grant grotesquely disproportionate reliefs without necessarily taking the time to properly evaluate the legitimacy of claims. The Madras High Court in particular has reportedly become somewhat of a preferred jurisdiction to obtain such blocking orders due to the ease with which this can be done as compared to other states.

By blindly allowing the plaintiffs’ request to have a large number of URLs blocked over alleged copyright infringement, Indian citizens have effectively been denied access to a crucial Internet resource that infused an extent of accountability into public life. This heavily underscores the need to re-visit norms governing online censorship, and to hold the judiciary to a greater standard of accountability when entertaining suits such as the present one.

All Posts | Apr 27,2017

22 social media websites blocked in Kashmir valley for up to one month

On Wednesday, April 26, 2017, the Jammu and Kashmir Government directed Internet Service Providers to block access to 22 social media sites in the Kashmir Valley for up to one month. The move reportedlycame in the wake of widespread circulation of videos depicting abuse of Kashmiris by Indian military personnel, which fueled unrest in the Valley. As per orders issued by J&K’s Principal Home Secretary R K Goyal, the following list of 22 websites stands blocked for a period of one month or until further orders, whichever is earlier:

  1. Facebook
  2. Twitter
  3. WhatsApp
  4. QQ
  5. WeChat
  6. Qzone
  7. Tumblr
  8. Google+
  9. Baidu
  10. Skype
  11. Viber
  12. Line
  13. Snapchat
  14. Pinterest
  15. Telegram
  16. Reddit
  17. Snapfish
  18. YouTube (uploads)
  19. Vine
  20. Xanga
  21. Buzznet
  22. Flickr

The order, issued under Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 read with Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951, noted that social media is increasingly being used by anti-national elements to disturb public order and tranquility, that such misuse of social media comes with no accountability on the part of the miscreants, that such incidents have been observed to cause large-scale damage to life and property, and that the use of these social media sites therefore needs to be immediately regulated/curbed.