More websites including ghs.google.com blocked in Sri Lanka?

Reports online and which I received through email indicate that more sites are being deliberately or inadvertently blocked in Sri Lanka, with most of the disruptions occurring on Sri Lanka Telecom ADSL broadband connections.

Some reports claim that domains hosted on blogger.com are being blocked, and other reports indicate that this is now a matter that is resolved. Other reports confirm that sites resolving to ghs.google.com were blocked and that ISPs have now removed the block. It is not clear why ghs.google.com was blocked.

Several organisations with their emails hosted on Google Apps reported severe problems with logging into their web mail, though POP / IMAP access worked fine.

Lanka News Web, itself blocked in Sri Lanka, now reports that another news website, Sri Lanka Guardian, is also blocked.

Coming soon after the IGP’s directive to all ISPs to “suspend licenses” of porn websites in Sri Lanka, it is worrying whether these are the first stabs at a more pervasive web filtering system in Sri Lanka.

On the banning of mobiles from schools

Lirneasia pretty much sums up all the nonsense here.

This latest ban, which has no basis in law, comes hot on the heels of the government ordering ISPs to block several porn websites, the Child Protection Authority banning the “hosting” of porn on mobiles, and the sickeningly subservient attitudes of mobile phone companies to appease a government that arbitrarily blocks websites other than porn it finds inconvenient.

If this is what the future looks like today, it stands to reason that we should be very worried about this inane, hypocritical encroachment of paternalistic government into our private lives.

IGP now wants to “suspend licenses” of porn websites in Sri Lanka

An order by the Inspector General of Police in Sri Lanka, the same chowderhead who once said women could record themselves getting raped through mobile phones, now wants to the Director General of Telecommunication Regulatory Commission to suspend the licenses of 12 websites which were exhibiting nude photographs.

Firstly, none of the websites the IGP has got all hot and bothered about are registered in Sri Lanka, but a simple whois search would be as alien to the Police in Sri Lanka as peacebuilding is to the incumbent government.

Secondly, why this sudden love for the rule of law? Websites in Sri Lanka are arbitrarily banned and blocked without warning or any due process, despite flat denials by government when asked about their censorship regime in place for web media. Tamilnet remains blocked on all ISPs in Sri Lanka. Recently, another website was blocked in Sri Lanka for showing images of the President’s son, which was very conveniently on the same day the site reported the egregious public statement of a highly placed goon in government and close friend of the President. Subsequent reports circulated over email that these photos were doctored and the report on the President’s son was false is reason to hold the journalists accountable for libel or conduct investigations into their false reporting, not shutdown an entire site.

The Island notes the CID started the investigation into the pornographic sites following a written complaint lodged by the IGP Jayantha Wickramaratne. While it’s heartening the IGP is concerned about our morals, I would much rather judge for myself the content I view on the web. There’s a real danger here of setting a precedent of blocking and banning website for website defined and seen as unsuitable by the incumbent regime’s set of puritan values, as noted by Foreign Policy with examples from China and Bahrain. In August 2008, there were news reports of an even wider, more intrusive net filtering regime proposed by the President. A the time, it was reported that the TRC had gone to the extent of demanding ISPs to ”filter the websites featuring Obscene/phonographic (sic) /sexually explicit materials”.

As Lirneasia notes tongue in the cheek,

Criminal Investigation Department, working on a complaint by the IGP revealed these sites contain pornographic images and video clips of men and women, possibly Sri Lankan. They also suspected an international conspiracy to tarnish the image of the country, reported, Divaina. One may term the act anti-protectionist, because while the local production is blocked the vast majority of international porn sites still remain open.

Post-war Sri Lanka needs to worry more, at the very least, about the abysmal freedom of expression in the country than strengthening, widening and worsening existing informal and formal censorship of media. Honestly, shouldn’t the Police be far more concerned about the dozens of dormant investigations into acts of murderous violence against journalists since this President took office?

But if the IGP really is serious about eradicating pornography on the web like dengue, he should ban Google too. A simple search brings up over 800,000 pages and a couple of hundred sites in addition to those above that if the Divaina is to be believed, is are all part of an international conspiracy to tarnish the image of the country.

Nokia Siemens in Iran: Shame or all’s fair game for telcos?

Deep packet inspection is bad under any regime, no matter how benevolent. When a regime such as Iran today gets access to technology with the potential of DPI, you have a justifiable uproar on far more serious and urgent implications than delayed music downloads.

Global media over the past week pointed to Nokia and Siemens as having provided the Iranian regime with technology to detect and filter information they found inconvenient. According to a widely republished and quoted Wall Street Journal article on 22 June that the newspaper stands by, a system installed in Iran by Nokia Siemens Networks provides Iranian authorities with the ability to conduct deep-packet inspection of online communications to monitor the contents and track the source of e-mail, VoIP calls, and posts to social networking sites such as Twitter, MySpace and Facebook. As quoted by Wired, the newspaper also said authorities had the ability to alter content as it intercepted the traffic from a state-owned internet choke point.

Commenting on the story was Ben Roome, a spokesperson for Nokia Siemens Networks who noted in a blog post that,

I do want to say to the people commenting here if we’re (I’m) aware of the situation in Iran. We are (and I am), and it is mainly because of mobile phone video, photos and calls from across Iran, communicating events first hand as they happen, that we are so aware. As I said above: we had a choice as to whether we bring the Iranian people this mobile connectivity, in the knowledge that telecoms networks in Iran are required to have the ability to monitor voice calls as they do all over the world. We made that choice and believe there is a net benefit to the people of Iran.

The point made is that the world is angry about Iran, and sees horrific videos such as the murder of Neda Soltani, because of the ICT networks and foundations facilitated by Nokia Siemens Networks. The over one hundred comments to date on Ben’s blog post reveal the frustration and anger of people who point to the culpability of Nokia Siemens Networks in the violence that has gripped Iran today.

I suggested to some colleagues this morning that one can look at this issue from the perspective of power and accountability. The power of these DPI systems in Iran pale into insignificance with the capacity of what, for example, the US and its allies can monitor and intercept domestically and globally. But there is, at worst, retroactive judicial oversight in the US even when the Executive runs amok combined with the enabling Freedom of Information legislation. What can and should business do when this accountability and oversight is not present, and yet government’s ask for powerful technologies that can be used to undermine human dignity and human security?

But let’s not kid ourselves – you don’t do any business with a regime like Iran expecting them to give a free reign to rights, dissent and democracy. Is that a reason to not do any business? Not. Is that a reason to be up front to consumers about the business one does? Perhaps. Is that a reason to brush away a moral responsibility for the death of Neda Soltani?

Definitely not.

Posts on Iran, new media and citizen journalism

I’ve been inundated with links on how new media is helping us understand what’s going on in Iran after its recently held Presidential elections.

In order to understand the broader context of who uses new media in Iran, why and how, the Berkman Centre’s Mapping Iran’s Online Public is essential reading.

A few articles on new media and the fallout of the Presidential elections in Iran I found genuinely insightful are:

What you need to understand about the riots in Iran and Twitter from Canada’s World
Tehran, Twitter, and Tiananmen by Dan Rather
Tehran, Twitter, and Tiananmen by the Washington Post
The Iranian Uprisings and the Challenge of the New Media by Henry Giroux in Counterpunch

Evgeny Morozov’s Texting Toward Utopia: Does the Internet spread democracy?, which to me is a definitive essay on the pros and cons of the web and Internet augmenting democracy also resonates with the observations in these articles.

In a slightly lighter vein, I have also looked at why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s help in developing IT and e-government in Sri Lanka is urgently needed and would be roundly welcomed.

Internet censorship in Sri Lanka

UNHCR’s RefWorld features a report from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that raises fears over a regime of Internet censorship in Sri Lanka broader and deeper than what exists at present. There is an element of hyperbole here – calling Sri Lanka an enemy of the Internet is, as yet, far too premature in light of the violent and far more pervasive web censorship in regimes such as Iran, China and Saudi Arabia.

However, concerns over the general tendency of the Sri Lankan state today to censor information deemed inconvenient, whether it be on the web or in print, are validated by examples provided in the report and other evidence.

Since the escalation of fighting in the country at the end of 2008, news posted online has increasingly become the target of restrictions. The website of Human Rights Watch is regularly inaccessible, which has given rise to a general fear of Internet censorship, which until now principally hit websites seen as pro-Tamil Tigers. The defence ministry released a report on 11 December 2008, on its website, defence.lk, in which it called reports on the Sinhala service of the BBC World Service “diabolical lies”. The BBC journalists are accused of being accomplices in Tamil Tiger propaganda, when they raise the plight of civilians living in combat zones.

The news website Lankadissent chose to cease operating on 10 January 2009 for fear of becoming the target of reprisals. The highly critical publication employed journalists who had lost their jobs after the closure of the newspaper Mawbima, under official pressure. The experience of the website TamilNet served as an example. In 2005, the website’s editor Dharmeratnam Sivaram “Taraki” was murdered because his coverage of the political and military situation was seen as hostile by the government. His killers have not been found and the site is blocked inside the country. The editor of the site E-thalay.org (http://www.ethalaya.org), Kumudu Champika Jayawardana, was the target of an ambush in 2007 after he became the target for pro-government militia because of articles posted online.

RSF does not cover the example of http://www.outreachsl.com, shut down after the incarceration of journalist J.S. Tissainayagam. There are specific fears of web media censorship I have also covered here, framed by the devastating erosion of the freedom of expression and media freedom in Sri Lanka.

The Economist magazine held up in “post-war” Sri Lanka?

Victory’s Rotten Fruits appears in the print edition of the most recent Economist.

This is an email I got this morning from a friend and subscriber to the mag in SL.

This week’s Economist has apparently (as per Vijitha Yapa – to whom I pay a bloody 11,000 bucks for the magazine) been “held up” at Customs. This is the 4th issue that has been held up…reckon this is the reason? Are we moving (already moved?) towards a state where we are going to be cut off from the world in terms of information (much like the Chinese chaps’ paranoia on websites????)

The manic inanity of Customs Officials, obviously in fear of or instructed by higher authorities to censor opinion inconvenient to the incumbents in power shows disturbing signs of growing. Last year, only public outcry and the threat of legal action was able to secure the release of a book by a respected academic, also held up at Customs for no discernible reason along with other publications. Prof. Rohan Samarajiva from Lirneasia writing on this issue last year may have nailed it,

Copies have not been confiscated. They are just reading them page by page, every copy, not knowing that they are identical copies. Poor customs officials. My heart goes out to them.

The free flow of ideas in post-war Sri Lanka is shaping up quite nicely don’t you think?

Update – 15 June 2009

Gawker pointed to this blog post on its home page and through a story featured on the website today.

Gawker on censoring the Economist in Sri Lanka

Click above for large image or click here for the Gawker story as a PDF.