India has blocked the Internet Archive nationwide and won’t say why [Update]

India has blocked the Internet Archive nationwide and won’t say why [Update]
Credit: Fancycrave / Pexels

The Indian government is no stranger to cutting off access to websites for its citizens as and when it sees fit, and to doing so without notifying users. While it’s previously obstructed access to porn sites, GitHub and WordPress.com, its latest stunt is perhaps the most audacious to date: blocking the Internet Archive.

Also known as the Wayback Machine, this invaluable resource has been around for two decades and hosts a searchable trove of more than 300 billion web pages, including those that are no longer available at their last-known addresses.

The block appears to affect only certain ISPs at present, including Airtel in New Delhi and Bangalore, and a bunch of others across the country. The following message is displayed when you try to visit the site:

Your requested URL has been blocked as per the directions received from the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India. Please contact administrator for more information.

As usual, the government hasn’t issued a public notification stating a reason for the obstruction or published the blocking order. In previous cases, these orders have only been circulated amongst ISPs.

While it’s hard to be sure why the Wayback Machine has been blocked, Medianama noted that the site is one of the only ways to access documents published and now taken down by the Unique Identification Authority of India. The agency is responsible for building and implementing the Aadhaar citizen ID program, which has been criticised for its porous security and data sharing protocols.

It’s possible that the block is an effort to prevent web users in the country from viewing these documents, including one that lists a number of private companies tasked with seeding and verifying Aadhaar data. It might also be the result of a court order that has nothing to do with censorship – but at this point, there’s no way to know for certain.

It’s one thing to block an online resource in an effort to quell unrest or prevent the spread of information across a large country; it’s much more worrying when the government won’t explain the reason behind its decision to do so.

The Internet Archive said it had not been contacted by the Indian government either, nor had it received a response to a query about why its site was blocked.

We’ve contacted the Indian Department of Telecom (DoT) and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy) and will update this post if there’s a response.

Update (10 August, 2017): The BBC has learned that the Internet Archive ban is likely connected to a court order, issued in a case brought forward by two Bollywood film production companies with a view to stop people from viewing pirated copies of two recently released movies in India.

Prakash Jha Productions and Red Chillies Entertainment, which launched ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ and ‘Jab Harry Met Sejal’ respectively, requested a total of 2,650 sites to be blocked on August 2; that list included the Internet Archive.

It’s worth noting that some users across the country have been able to access the Internet Archive; it’s also possible to circumvent the block by visiting the HTTPS URL for that site.

H/T Kushagra Pathak and Leo Kelion for the heads-up.

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