The Indian government has been vehemently standing against adult websites on the internet and has already banned 800-odd sites for the Indians. However, Indians cleverly found ways to access these websites via the methods of proxies and VPNs. On January 3, Indian Reddit users started a thread where they discussed that Reliance Jio which has over 250 million subscribers in the country is banning proxy and VPN sites which are used to bypass the geographical internet restrictions by routing the connection through a different country. This move by the Mukesh Ambani led telecom operator has paved way for some serious questions about net neutrality, and the principle that all internet service providers (ISPs) must not be partial in their operations regarding any data.
VPNs and Proxies Inaccessible on Reliance Jio Network
When tried to access by the Reliance Jio users, a minimum of seven proxy sites were found to be blocked which included the likes of Hide.me, VPNbook, Hidester, Kproxy, Proxysite, Proxy.toolur, and Megaproxy. On the other hand, when the same sites were tried on other ISPs like Airtel, Vodafone, Spectranet and ACT they were working fine. This incident has led the users of Reliance Jio to believe that the company is blocking these websites without any government order whatsoever. The executive director of New Delhi-based digital rights organisation Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), Apar Gupta said that there is a lack of transparency regarding website blocking and it is hard to understand why something might be restricted.
Back in December, IFF had also conducted a Twitter poll asking its users whether their ISPs were blocking VPN and proxy sites after many users reported about the same. About this issue, Apar Gupta of the IFF said that government has not declared proxy sites and VPNs to be illegal in India. Instead, the proxy “needs to be considered in the larger perspective of the absence of privacy protection or data protection framework in India, as well as the wide-ranging surveillance powers which the Indian state enjoys.”
ISPs Wrongfully Blocking Sites: IFF
It is worth noting that the state may now enjoy even more surveillance power since only two weeks ago the government authorised ten central agencies to intercept, monitor, decrypt, any digital communication. Not only that but reportedly, the government is also seeking a chance to make amendments to the Information Technology (IT) Act that compel online intermediaries to trace “unlawful” content online. This news was reported by Quartz.
Gupta added to his stance saying that if Jio is blocking proxy and VPN sites, then it would mean that the provider is violating a fundamental principle that the ISP should not interfere with the choices of an end user. He also said that there is a lack of transparency in the whole censorship process, “When a person does not have the ability to approach a court, getting a hearing or any kind of judicial remedy, it just makes the entire censorship process secret.”
When posed with questions, Reliance Jio did not return any answers. This is not the first time that government has decided to block websites. In 2015, the government faced massive backlash when popular sites like Github, Vimeo, Dailymotion, and Archive.org were blocked because they allegedly contained content related to Islamic State.