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On Anonymous’s latest crusade against Internet censorship in India

By on May 18, 2012 in Stop The Press | 0 comments

In a nutshell: A company called Copyright Labs gets a court order from Chennai High Court to block websites pirating movies that Copyright Labs represents interests for. Consequently, Copyright Labs forwards the court order to internet service providers and a whole load of torrent and video sharing sites get blocked. Internet users in India collectively feel they have fire ants in their trousers. Anonymous, or its Indian faction, sets up a Twitter account @opindia_revenge and starts taking down Indian government sites through distributed denial-of-service attacks. We are Legion. Expects Us. Etc etc. Here are some of my thoughts. A lot of the online commentary I hear is that “the Indian government is practising censorship!” or “With problems like poverty and corruption, the Indian government thinks preventing movie downloads is more important!” The Indian government has nothing to do with it. India, like many democracies, has separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary. As this was a court order issued under existing laws of India, where exactly does the question of “the government” censoring the Internet come in? The court order was requested by a private company representing the interests of film studios and issued by the Chennai High Court. So, if at all anyone is to be angry, they would be angry at these three parties: Copyright Labs, Chennai High Court, film studios who have contracts with Copyright Labs. In the list of websites DDoS’d so far by Anonymous: Congress Party, BJP, Supreme Court of India, Ministry of Information & Technology, Department of Telecommunications. Notice how none of these people were actually involved with the blocking order? “To be fair” – and I use this term loosely – Anonymous also took down Reliance Big Entertainment (one of the film studios who have previously engaged in taking down sites) and Copyright Labs’ website, the latter being not particularly impressive since it’s a shared hosting account on Bluehost. Anonymous India’s (whoever they are) takedowns don’t sound that impressive either when by their own admission they are able to effectively DDoS site for only five minutes. I don’t believe in the way Anonymous’s hive mind goes about picking it targets. That said, a lot of its targets in the past – while targetted through technically illegal methods – could still be said to be somewhat “morally pardonable”. Perhaps Sony deserved it for adopting poor security practices…but none of the users of the PlayStation Network deserved to have their personal financial details released. Anyway, more often than not, Anonymous have indulged in what can objectively be called vandalism with quite a sense of self-entitlement. Don’t forget that India’s a country where copyright violation and piracy is de facto. Anonymous’s hive mind seems to lashing out with the same twisted logic and sense of self-entitlement that it typically does. More tellingly, a lot of the outrage that I see online is of people being unable to access pirated content in the guise of “Internet censorship” than anything else. You know what’s going to happen once the dust settles? These actions are going to fast-track even more restrictive IT laws that have allowed such a court order to be issued in the first place. What would help is to resort to measures within the existing judicial system to see how such a far-reaching court order was issued in the first place (my understanding of the Indian IT Act is it does indeed allows this), and lobby for free-er Internet laws. Yeah. Like that’s going to happen now after giving the government a reason to enact even tougher...

Anna Hazare – The Man and The Policies

By on Apr 25, 2011 in Stop The Press | 0 comments

A collection of articles on the man of the moment Anna Hazare and his policies. Much hand-wringing and righteous indignation as you’d expect from liberal / libertarian writers such as Amit Varma and Manu Joseph. Ah, who am I kidding – of course I agree with them.

On the Jan Lok Pal Bill

By on Apr 13, 2011 in Stop The Press | 4 comments

…the Jan Lok Pal Bill become an attempt by the marginalized urban English-educated classes to take back their country. Its evident in way public feedback is sought, as per the draft Bill, through a website, something that the “poor” don’t really have access to. It’s evident in the qualification criteria for the committee (Magsaysay Award winners, Nobel prize winners, Bharat Ratnas) that the urban middle class wants what we Bengalis call “bhodrolok” in charge. – On The Jan Lok Pal Bill by Great Bong I have been too confused to put to words what I felt about the Jan Lok Pal Bill, because it was largely a sense of unease at what was going on and the methods adopted to achieve the goal. (I tried to joke it away “Who’s this chick, Anna, then?”) That article on Great Bong’s blog is fairly accurate manifestation of what I felt. As a matter of principle, the proposal feels all wrong. A committee of guiding ‘Elders’, no matter how benign it sounds, is ultimately placing power in the hands of people who have no accountability to anyone. Anna Hazare may be a man of great virtue and his intentions may be noble, I have no doubts about that. Yet, I find myself disagreeing with campaigns he has run in the past such as banning the sale of alcohol and tobacco in the ‘model village’ he set up. What seems like a beneficial idea, on the surface, is actually a measure that inhibits free will. It is lecturing from a pulpit, saying “I know better; you are too poor/stupid so do this instead.” The idea of a Lok Pal smacks of similar holier-than-thou sentiments. I do not profess have a better solution. However, I do agree with the argument that measures are needed to prevent corrupt politicians from running for elections in the first place, rather than try to clean up after they have been voted into power. At least Anna Hazare’s campaign has piqued the country’s interest and got the youth interested in taking action. What isn’t so good is the shrill “YOU MUST OBEY US”...

‘The Social Network’ sequel

By on Apr 13, 2011 in Stop The Press | 4 comments

High drama today as it appears Mark Zuckerberg is being hauled to court for the third time over potentially screwing people out of their dues when Facebook started. (The first two being Eduardo Saverin and the Winklevii.) The person suing this time is a snake-oil wood-pellet salesman called Paul Ceglia who looks like an unemployed Bengali art teacher. He has already  been convicted once for fraud (long story, but apparently that’s how he unearthed the evidence to file this lawsuit) so on normal days people would laugh him away. Which indeed he was, when he filed the lawsuit last summer. Now, however, he is being represented by a law firm that specialises in technology IP disputes called DLA Piper which says it has done the due diligence in this matter and certain that none of the evidence is faked. This is big because if a law firm is willing to financial risks and loss of face by backing the authenticity of evidence it’s submitting to court, not to mention that Ceglia has already been to jail once and knows the consequence of such an outrageous fraud claim (even more jail time), this makes it all the more believable that there might actually be something here. Hoo boy. Who could’ve thought circumstances would make a sequel of The Social Network possible? **** In my review of The Social Network, I was fairly critical of it but I don’t think I explained my stand clearly. See, the problem with it – in my opinion – is that although it’s an exceptionally well-written and acted movie when seen on its own, it is not a good movie about the origins of Facebook. Where The Social Network failed for me was that even though it got the events and the chronology right, it got all the motivations of the characters wrong. And I’m not even talking about the ‘official’ Zuck / Facebook version of what happened (the ‘official’ Bible happens to be The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick); I’m talking of how blatantly Aaron Sorkin twists everything to tell a story he as a person who didn’t know much about Facebook (like most of the viewers) wants to tell rather than the one even its source material tells. (The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, the book the film is based on.) The iconic scene right at the start with Rooney Mara? Fabricated, as Aaron Sorkin himself confesses. While the film portrays Zuck as a misogynistic nerd who made Facebook out of spite, Mezrich tells the story of an ambitious college kid who knows the masterpiece he wants to build (and, FYI, is not driven out of hatred out of being spurned; instead mentioning Zuckerberg’s relationship with current fiancé Priscilla Chan). Mezrich also give a more complete picture of how uninterested Eduardo Saverin was and how he put up ads for competing social networks on Facebook early on, while the movie glosses over this to make Saverin look a handsome Brazilian hombre who got royally screwed over by an asshole. Even the stake dilution was completely overblown, as in real-life and in Mezrich’s book (which, if I may remind again, is supposedly the source material for the film) the stake was reduced to “slightly less than 10%”, not the jaw-dropping “less than 1%” in the movie. Sorkin had an agenda here to tell a gripping story, but it just isn’t the one which captures the true motivations and intentions of the characters he could have pieced together from so many accounts. Nobody expects a documentary – but when it got the chronology and the events themselves right, changing the other bits to make Zuckerberg come across as a jerk seems intentionally malicious. This is why I feel The Social Network is ultimately a bad movie because it fails to do what it sets out to achieve: tell The Story of Facebook. **** And while the latest lawsuit does open up the discussion again on whether Zuckerberg really was a jerk, you have to remember this is a 20-21 year old kid (at that time) we are talking about. In the same position – with an idea you feel can truly revolutionise the world – with no life experience dealing with millions or with VCs or investors, how much wiser decisions would you have taken instead in Zuckerberg’s...

The Indian Premier Leak (Tehelka)

By on Apr 27, 2010 in Food For Thought, Stop The Press | 3 comments

Brilliant, insightful article on the Tharoor-Modi IPL saga by Tehelka magazine. Even in its new avatar, Tehelka continues to justify why it’s such an acclaimed media agency. (Remember ‘Operation West End‘?) Until now I only had (relatively) vague idea about what was going on, but this article sums everything up and brings forth new facts to light at the same time, while also offering analysis. The thing about staying many times zones away from your home country, without easy access to newspapers or TV media is that it’s extremely difficult to follow what’s happening ‘back home’, especially in rapidly developing news stories such as the IPL controversy. Of course, there are news sites but then sitting down and browsing through news on a site is so much harder than reading a ‘compiled’ version, i.e., a newspaper or a news bulletin. Maybe there’s hope for ‘mainstream media’ after all. But let’s not forget that even Tehelka started off as an unconventional outlet, in that it was a...