phorkie: Threat to India's national security

The home page of phorkie, my git based pastebin software, is blocked in India because it threatens the national security and hosts terrorist content:

Insane! Govt orders blocking of 32 websites including @internetarchive @vimeo @github @pastebin #censorship #FoEx

List of blocked websites

Pranesh Prakash at 2014-12-30 23:45

Finding a reason

The reason seems to be that the ISIS "terror" group used pastebins to publish information: (Is there an official, government-backed definition of "terror"?)

The websites that have been blocked were based on an advisory by Anti Terrorism Squad, and were carrying Anti India content from ISIS. 1/2

The sites that have removed objectionable content and/or cooperated with the on going investigations, are being unblocked. 2/2

Arvind Gupta at 2014-12-31 01:41 and 2014-12-31 01:43

The question is now why the phorkie software is blocked, too? It is only software, not even a public installation that everyone can use to publish content. People noted this:

#IndiasBiggestThreat phorkie: git based pastebin http://cweiske.de/tagebuch/phorkie.htm #LMAO

Shuvankar Mukherjee at 2014-12-31 06:54

17. This is 1st time I have ever heard of a govt banning free software ("phorkie", a pastebin clone) for inciting "terrorism". #GoIBlocks

Pranesh Prakash at 2014-12-31 08:00

What "terrorist content" / ISIS propaganda does the "phorkie" pastebin software's Sourceforge page have? http://sourceforge.net/projects/phorkie/

Pranesh Prakash at 2014-12-31 05:21

This leads to a fundamental question:

I am surprised this government did not block web servers because they can be used to host phorkie.

Sushubh at 2014-12-31 05:31

Dear indian government, please shut down all roads because terrorists and burglars use them, and forbid bread and rice because it's what terrorists eat to stay alive.

Getting phorkie

Apart from the phorkie home page on sourceforge, the code is mirrored on my own git server and also mirrored on GitHub.

Government statement

The Press Information Bureau, Government of India writes in a press release :

Websites Blocked Following Court Oreder

Additional Director General of Police, Anti Terrorism Squad, M.S., Mumbai on 15/11/2014 requested blocking of 32 number of websites / pages which were being used for Jihadi Propaganda. It was stated that Anti National group are using social media for mentoring Indian youths to join the Jihadi activities. These websites work on page hosting concept. Many of these wbsites does not require any authentication for pasting any material on them. Other upload articles, Videos or photos or to download the contents which helps to hide the identities. These websites were being used frequently for pasting, communicating such content by just changing page name even blocking the earlier one.

Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate also issued the order on 10.11.2014 for blocking of these 32 websites on urgent basis. Blocking of the websites was ordered in compliance with court order. Contact has also been made with some of the websites. These websites have undertaken not to allow pasting of such propaganda information on their website and also work with the Govt. to remove such material as per the compliance with the laws of land. The action has been initiated to unblock the following sites:

  • weebly.com
  • vimeo.com
  • dailymotion.com
  • gist.github.com

similar approach could be considered for other involved websites on getting assurance that law of the land would be complied with.

The sourceforge phorkie project page does not allow pasting any content. I guess the results of an overly broad internet search were simply dumped into the court order request. As always.

I also have to say that I was not informed by anyone of the Indian government (or other official authorities) about the phorkie homepage being blocked. I also have no idea what to do to get unblocked.

What was blocked?

So, what URLs were blocked by the government and what category do they fall under?

Blocked URLs
# URL Type
1 https://justpaste.it/ Text sharing
2 http://hastebin.com Text sharing
3 http://codepad.org Text sharing
4 http://pastie.org Text sharing
5 https://pastee.org Text sharing
6 http://paste2.org Text sharing
7 http://slexy.org Text sharing
8 http://paste4btc.com/ Text sharing
9 http://0bin.net Text sharing
10 http://www.heypasteit.com Text sharing
11 http://sourceforge.net/projects/phorkie Text sharing software
12 http://atnsoft.com/textpaster Clipboard management software
13 https://archive.org Internet archive
14 http://www.hpage.com Website hosting
15 http://www.ipage.com/ Website hosting
16 http://www.webs.com/ Website hosting
17 http://www.weebly.com/ Website hosting
18 http://www.000webhost.com/ Website hosting
19 https://www.freehosting.com Website hosting
20 https://vimeo.com/ Video sharing
21 http://www.dailymotion.com/ Video sharing
22 http://pastebin.com Text sharing
23 https://gist.github.com Text sharing
24 http://www.ipaste.eu Text sharing
25 https://thesnippetapp.com Content publishing
26 https://snipt.net Text sharing
27 http://tny.cz (Tinypaste) Text sharing
28 https://github.com (gist-it) Source code hosting
29 http://snipplr.com/ Text sharing
30 http://termbin.com Text sharing
31 http://www.snippetsource.net Text sharing
32 https://cryptbin.com Text sharing

Types

The indian government blocked the following types of URLs:

Count Type
19xText sharing (pastebin)
6xWebsite hosting
2xVideo sharing
1xClipboard management
1xContent publishing
1xInternet Archive
1xSource code hosting
1xText sharing software

The main target of the blocks were text sharing tools, so-called pastebins. The next were website hosting providers, followed by video sharing sites.

The clipboard management application "text paster" does not even remotely fall in the category of content sharing; it probably only had the correct keywords ("text" and "paste") on its website.

The internet archive of course archives websites (including deleted ones); blocking it is like burning books because you don't like their content. Welcome in 1938, India.

Blocking the whole github.com domain because it hosts the "gist-it" software is way too much. The outcry came instantly; many developers use software hosted there.

Sourceforge on the other hand got only the specific phorkie project page (and subpages) blocked. It still is only software that the "terrorists" have to install on their own server to make it usable.

Problems with the blocks

The first issue is that the blocks are too broad. Jamming useful services for millions of people simple because one or two files on that servers contain content that's deemed unsuitable by the Indian government is not propositional.

In Germany we believe in deleting instead of blocking . Simply sending requests to the services with the specific URLs that should be deleted is much more effective instead of blocking: The files are really gone instead of simply blocked, and deleting will happen quicker than instructing the ISPs to block some domains or URLs. A block always means that there are ways around that block. Deleting also means that you don't actually need a censorship infrastructure.

There is much collateral damage. Neither phorkie nor gist-it, nor the clipboard management software do host content that needs to be blocked. The authors of "textpaster" even can't sell all of their software in India anymore since the website is blocked.

Unblocked on 2015-01-10

The Economic Times writes on 2015-01-10 :

NEW DELHI: The government on Friday ordered internet service providers (ISPs) to unblock 32 websites and website links it had asked them to block in December. Its decision to put curbs on these sites had stirred up massive online protests and debates over the need for standard procedures to deal with such situations.

[...]

The court's action was based on a complaint by the Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad, which claimed that these sites were being used to spread pro-terror messages.

IBN Live writes that differently :

"Order was issued on Thursday to unblock all 32 websites that were blocked following complaint of Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) that ISIS is disseminating content through them. All websites has responded that they will work with government and removed jehadi content," a source said.

This is not true. I did not remove any content from the phorkie homepage, and I did not communicate to anyone that I will "work with the government".

I guess the public outcry was so large that someone actually checked the content of the URLs on the block list, just to find no "pro-terror messages" at all.

Written by Christian Weiske.

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