India’s government has blocked the Internet Archive, the free, 21-year-old online digital library that lets anyone find archived versions of millions of webpages through the Wayback Machine. The move has prompted backlash in India, particularly because the access to deleted webpages that the Internet Archive provides offers an easy way to get around government censorship.
The news was first reported by Indian technology news website MediaNama.
Users in India who tried accessing the website on Tuesday evening saw a boilerplate message from India’s Department of Telecommunications, which the government throws up whenever it directs internet service providers in the country to block websites.
It's not clear why the website was blocked. An Internet Archive spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the service had not been contacted by the Indian government, and that its queries to the Department of Telecommunications and the country's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology have gone unanswered. "Obviously, we are disappointed and concerned by this situation and are very eager to understand why it's happening and see full access restored to archive.org," the spokesperson said.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to the Department of Telecommunications for comment.
"It seems highly unlikely to me that the Wayback Machine or Archive.org threaten national security or public order in a way that Google's Cache or a well-stocked library don't," Pranesh Prakash, policy director at the Centre for Internet and Society, a think tank based in Bangalore, told BuzzFeed News. "The blocking orders the Department of Telecom sends to ISPs are marked 'confidential' rather than being published officially on [the department's] official website." Doing this prevents citizens from knowing why a website is blocked.
"This is another reminder of the capricious, arbitrary, and utterly opaque nature of online censorship in India," Prakash told BuzzFeed News.
Minutes after the Internet Archive was banned, furious Indians took to Twitter to vent their frustrations.
India has a controversial history of blocking websites or internet access entirely.
A controversial section in India's Information Technology Act, which was upheld by the Indian Supreme Court in 2015, allows any officer in the country's central government to ask internet service providers in the country to block any website to protect the country's "sovereignty and integrity."
This is the second time that the Internet Archive has been blocked by the Indian government. In 2014, it was among the 31 websites banned in the country — along with GitHub, Pastebin, and Vimeo — for "carrying anti-Indian content" by ISIS. Concerned citizens criticized the move.
And in the Indian state of Kashmir, the government has cut off access to the internet more than 30 times since 2012.
For now, some Indian redditors have discovered a workaround to access the Internet Archive.
It turns out that Bollywood is behind the block. BuzzFeed News has obtained two court orders issued by an Indian High Court (accessible here and here that ban the Internet Archive and more than 2,600 file-sharing websites.
The court issued the orders after two prominent Bollywood production houses, Red Chillies Entertainment and Prakash Jha Productions, attempted to stop these websites from distributing pirated copies of two recently-released Bollywood movies, Jab Harry Met Sejal, and Lipstick Under My Burkha.