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Dear Justice Vasuki,

I am writing to you with concern about the recent developments after an order of yours was used by Copyright Labs as a tool to block access to large parts of the internet. I really appreciate your clarification issued to the ISPs that the order was intended to only block specific urls and not entire sites. However, I have some concerns, that I would like to share with you.

It is my view that the Madras High Court order from you was deliberately misused by Copyright Labs to block off entire areas of the internet. In your order, you have not mentioned any websites. These websites were added by the lawyer of Copyright Labs, Advocate L H Harish Ram in his notice to ISPs demanding entire websites be blocked. It also isn't a minor request, but a huge list of 272 websites that Copyright Labs invented seemingly of their own accord.

Some of these websites have "tamil" in their name, which means their readership is significantly Indian, so they for all intents and purposes were supposed to be wiped out, because they "could" pirate the film. Other sites with large and diverse utilities were added to this list. VIMEO, for example is largely a site for independent filmmakers. To see pirated content, you are supposed to go to youtube, which (surprise!) isn't on this list. Maybe because Google does have lawyers in India and a tendency to expose bullshit censorship attempts. VIMEO has a lot of documentaries, independent films, instruction videos for applications, portfolios of personal work and more. VIMEO also has paid subscriptions for people who want to post more video content than the free option. Indian users who may have paid for it got harmed by the actions of this notice, because their payment did not result in their clients seeing their videos and additionally gave them a bad name for being blocked by the laws of the country - for no fault of their own. And then the ridiculous. At least one website on that list is completely incapable of hosting video content at all - pastebin is strictly text. How can it possibly host their pirated content? As you see, this was an arbitrary misuse and misrepresentation of your words.

Legal jargon can be difficult to understand, and it is easy for a layman to be confused by it or misunderstand the meaning of an order. However, Copyright Labs is a business specifically for protecting copyrights. Unless they are spectacularly incompetent, it is unlikely they did not understand the difference between your order and how they used it. Additionally, when people protested the blocks, they issued statements directly lying about their actions and said that they had not asked for entire sites to be blocked. In my view, that totally demolishes any possibility that they did not know what they were doing. It is an alarming thing for a business to be built around protection of copyright that silences entire swathes of the internet countrywide.

Even if every single Tamil internet film watcher saw only internet-pirated versions of their films, how many would they be among total number of Indians impacted by this action? This is like killing everyone in a village so that any militants among them are dead too or worse, killing all kids in a school, because they *could* grow up to be militants.

The question here is what will you do? Will there be any action taken against entities that use court orders as weapons against the fundamental rights of citizens for the sake of profit? Or will they enjoy impunity and be free to take such gambles knowing that it is a business profit if it works, and no loss if it fails? If so, why wouldn't people with money to burn continue to try to pervert our justice system for fun and profit?  Merely restoring access to the sites in question - as the situation currently stands, in my view is like being ok with a thief simply returning stolen goods if caught.

I have some suggestions.

  • Why make protections for specific films? Is it ok to pirate the others?
  • When such protections are provided that impact millions of lay people, a layman's version should be provided, which may not be legally binding without the very specific legal jargon, but helps the common man understand what the court really means from a trustworthy source in normal language so there is no possibility for crooks to invent their own interpretations. Anyone interested in details or legal aspects can study the actual order document for the legally accountable version.
  • Deliberate misrepresentation of the court's words, particularly against the rights of citizens should be punishable.

I have the common man's idealistic vision of our courts. I want to see the hero put the bad guys in jail at the end of the film, not merely recover the loot and set them free to bully the bastiwalahs again.

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

Vidyut

AamJanata

1

Keeping this short and straight.

The blocks on the websites that happened recently, are not about controlling piracy, but about controlling the internet itself. If you look at the top popular sites where anyone can post content, you will see that increasingly, there are three kinds of sites. The first are those that have understandings on content removal with our government - think Google, Facebook, etc. The second are those whose access comes under threat - be it The Pirate Bay or pastebin. And of course, the third kind of site is the one directly or indirectly influenced by the government - news sites, for example.

In other words, if anything gets said that needs to be silent, the accessible part of the web can be forced into compliance one way or the other. Sites without such understandings either have to have content that will not bother the government or are at risk of being banned. If it were about piracy, it makes no sense to ban VIMEO, where there is very little pirated content, but keep access to YouTube, where you can get uploaded videos of just about every Hindi song ever - and by multiple users who are not the rights owners for those songs. Let alone other piracy. However, it makes sense when you factor in the fact that Google routinely takes down content on the demand of the government. It is an alarming worldwide trend. There are 250000 content removal requests on an average **per week* at Google. This is more than all of 2009. That is how rapidly censorship is growing.

It is less of censorship and more of control freakery. The government's interest is in knowing that they can take down content that they want to silence efficiently. This content may or may not be pirated, as is clearly understood from the large number of content removal requests for political reasons from India. Of course, at that time the reason was offending religious sentiments - a small fraction of the actual removal requests. In various ways and for various reasons, the government is making sustained attacks on free speech.

Do the math.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FBI seizes server providing anonymous remailer and many other services from colocation facility.

Contacts:

  • Riseup Networks, Devin Theriot-Orr, 206-708-8740, sunbird@riseup.net
  • May First/People Link, Jamie McClelland, 917-509-5734, jm@mayfirst.org
  • ECN: Isole Nella Rete, inr@riseup.net

Attack on Anonymous Speech

On Wednesday, April 18, at approximately 16:00 Eastern Time, U.S. Federal authorities removed a server from a colocation facility shared by Riseup Networks and May First/People Link in New York City. The seized server was operated by the European Counter Network (“ECN”), the oldest independent internet service provider in Europe, who, among many other things, provided an anonymous remailer service, Mixmaster, that was the target of an FBI investigation into the bomb threats against the University of Pittsburgh.

“The company running the facility has confirmed that the server was removed in conjunction with a search warrant issued at the request of the FBI,” said May First/People Link director Jamie McClelland. “The server seizure is not only an attack against us, but an attack against all users of the Internet who depend on anonymous communication.”

Disrupted in this seizure were academics, artists, historians, feminist groups, gay rights groups, community centers, documentation and software archives and free speech groups. The server included the mailing list “cyber rights” (the oldest discussion list in Italy to discuss this topic), a Mexican migrant solidarity group, and other groups working to support indigenous groups and workers in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. In total, over 300 email accounts, between 50-80 email lists, and several other websites have been taken off the Internet by this action. None are alleged to be involved in the anonymous bomb threats. The seized machine did not contain any riseup email accounts, lists, or user data. Rather, the data belonged to ECN.

“The FBI is using a sledgehammer approach, shutting down service to hundreds of users due to the actions of one anonymous person,” said Devin Theriot-Orr, a spokesperson for Riseup. “This is particularly misguided because there is unlikely to be any information on the server regarding the source of the threatening emails.”

“We sympathize with the University of Pittsburgh community who have had to deal with this frightening disruption for weeks. We oppose such threatening actions. However, taking this server won’t stop these bomb threats. The only effect it has is to also disrupt e-mail and websites for thousands of unrelated people,” continues Mr. Theriot-Orr. “Furthermore, the network of anonymous remailers that exists is not harmed by taking this machine. So we cannot help but wonder why such drastic action was taken when authorities knew that the server contained no useful information that would help in their investigation.”

The FBI purportedly seized the server because it was hosting an anonymous remailer called Mixmaster. Anonymous remailers are used to send email anonymously, or pseudonymously. Like other anonymizing services such as the Tor network, these remailers are widely used to protect the identity of human rights activists who place themselves and their families in grave danger by reporting information about abuses. Remailers are also important for corporate whistle blowers, democracy activists working under repressive regimes, and others to communicate vital information that would otherwise go un-reported.

The Mixmaster software is specifically designed to make it impossible for anyone to trace the emails. The system does not record logs of connections, details of who sent messages, or how they were routed. This is because the Mixmaster network is specifically designed to resist censorship, and support privacy and anonymity. Unfortunately, some people misuse the network. However, compared to the rate of legitimate use, the abuse rate is very low. There is therefore no legitimate purpose for the FBI to seize this server because they will not be able to obtain any information about the sender. This is plainly extra-judicial punishment and an attack on free speech and anonymity on the internet and serves as a chilling effect on others providers of anonymous remailers or other anonymous services.

In absence of any other leads, the FBI needs to show that they are making progress in this case, and this has meant seizing a server so they can proudly demonstrate they are taking some action. But what this incident shows is they are grasping at straws and are willing to destroy innocent bystanders for the sake of protecting their careers.

About the organizations involved

MayFirst/People Link (mayfirst.org) is a politically-progressive member-run and controlled organization that redefines the concept of “Internet Service Provider” in a collective and collaborative way. May First/People Link’s members are organizers and activists who elect a Leadership Committee to direct the organization. Like a coop, members pay dues, buy equipment and then share that equipment for websites, email, email lists, and other Internet purposes.

Riseup Networks (riseup.net) provides online communication tools for people and groups working on liberatory social change. Riseup creates democratic alternatives and practices self-determination by controlling our own secure means of communications.

ECN (European Counter Network – ecn.org) is the oldest independent service provider in Europe providing free email accounts, mailing lists, and websites to organizations, activists, and movements that are involved in human rights, freedom of speech and information in Italy and Europe. ECN is anti-fascist and works towards a just and equal society. Years ago, before sites like Youtube and Vimeo existed, ECN created a platform called NGV where people could upload and share independent video of human rights violations. Nowadays ECN works primarily with anti-fascist and anti-Nazi movements in all of Europe, providing space and resources to political and social centers.

Questions / further reading

Q: Doesn’t Mixmaster/anonymous remailers enable criminals to do bad things?

A: Criminals can already do bad things. Since they’re willing to break laws, they already have lots of options available that provide better privacy than mixmaster provides. They can steal cell phones, use them, and throw them in a ditch; they can crack into computers in Korea or Brazil and use them to launch abusive activities; they can use spyware, viruses, and other techniques to take control of literally millions of Windows machines around the world.

Mixmaster aims to provide protection for ordinary people who want to follow the law. Only criminals have privacy right now, and we need to fix that.

Some advocates of anonymity explain that it’s just a tradeoff — accepting the bad uses for the good ones — but there’s more to it than that. Criminals and other bad people have the motivation to learn how to get good anonymity, and many have the motivation to pay well to achieve it. Being able to steal and reuse the identities of innocent victims (identify theft) makes it even easier. Normal people, on the other hand, don’t have the time or money to spend figuring out how to get privacy online. This is the worst of all possible worlds.

So yes, criminals could in theory use mixmaster, but they already have better options, and it seems unlikely that taking mixmaster away from the world will stop them from doing bad things. At the same time, mixmaster and other privacy measures can fight identity theft, physical crimes like stalking, and so on. Please see the tor FAQ on abuse for more information.

Q: How does Mixmaster / Anonymous remailers work?

A: Anonymous remailers work by connecting to other anonymous remailers in a chain, and every one in that chain removes the mail header information making it impossible to find the real sender.The Tor project maintains a list of typical users of this and other anonymity systems, and theMixmaster home page