You can face 3 years in jail and penalty for ‘viewing’ torrent sites

Shocking censorship in India, visiting torrent sites in India could land you in jail for three years as well as a fine of $4,500

The last couple of months have been really tough on torrent users. First, Kickass Torrent was taken down after its founder was arrested, then Torrentz was shut down casting a doom on the torrent users. And the drama continues.

According to a report by India Today, you can now get three-year jail sentence as well as a fine of Rs. 3 lakh for trying to visit URLs that are banned by the Indian government. Over the past few years, the Indian government with the support Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or under the directive of the courts have blocked thousands of websites and URLs.

In August 2015, the government banned at least 857 sites for their pornographic contents. Additionally, the government also banned about 170 objectionable sites.

However, in spite of blocking numerous websites and URLs, people still do visit these websites, using different techniques. Hence, the new rule implies that users who are found visiting torrent sites blocked in India or downloading a file, or viewing an image will land you in jail along with a heavy fine of Rs. 3 lakh.

According to the report, you will be shown the following warning, if you visit a blocked torrent site or URLs: “This URL has been blocked under the instructions of the Competent Government Authority or in compliance with the orders of a Court of competent jurisdiction. Viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating an illicit copy of the contents under this URL is punishable as an offence under the laws of India, including but not limited to under Sections 63, 63-A, 65 and 65-A of the Copyright Act, 1957 which prescribe imprisonment for 3 years and also fine of upto Rs. 3,00,000/-. Any person aggrieved by any such blocking of this URL may contact at [email protected] who will, within 48 hours, provide you the details of relevant proceedings under which you can approach the relevant High Court or Authority for redressal of your grievance.”

Earlier, if you would visit a banned site, the message would should that the URL has been blocked at the direction of Department of Telecom (DoT) or the court. However, it appears that now new warnings are fast replacing the older message. The warning has started rolling out on MTNL connections in addition to Airtel and Tata.

Lately, however, the government bodies were not only experimenting in how to implement the blocks but were also trying to figure what message to show to users. Recently, the blocked URLs also gave out not reachable error without specifying any message.

Most websites in India were earlier blocked using (Domain Name System) DNS-filtering, which was very easy to bypass these blocks and access the actual website using third-party DNS services (for example, the ones maintained by Google). However, DNS filtering does not serve the intended purpose when a site uses HTTPs or is secured with encryption. As a result, at the request of government bodies, ISPs have continued to invest more in improving the blocking mechanism. The government has also taken the help of big companies such as Tata Communications and Airtel to help them reach their ‘blocking’ goals.

As pointed out by the report, the message clearly states that the Indian government is taking strict steps to ensure blockage of all URLs via Internet gateways. Currently, Tata Communications seems to be the one of the bigwigs managing the gateways.

While the step to block illegal websites is a good one, the message in itself is ominous and surely must have been vetted by a government body. However, there is no clarity as to how it will be enforced. It doesn’t look possible that the government will be keeping a watch on the whole World Wide Web, and looking for people may access or try to access a blocked URL. Further, it is also not clear how someone would be prosecuted and what process will be followed, if they are found accessing a blocked URL in India. It remains to be seen when the government will issue a clear notification on the same.

Till then, all the internet users in India be extremely careful while browsing the web and try and stay clear of blocked websites.

 

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