Wikileaks became a global phenomenon after the release of thousands of secret cables of the United States State Department, in November 2010. The 2010 release was part of the continuing efforts of Wikileaks to counter what the group perceived as corrupt governance and lack of transparency. Although the organization had made similar releases from late 2006 – the cable release gave rise to several repercussions of the US government. The repercussions of censorship took both official and unofficial forms.
Official censoring ranged from pressurising financial institutions and web servers linked with Wikileaks to detainment and harassments of Wikileaks activists by authorities. Unofficial efforts were taken when there were several denial of service (DoS) unleashed on website for several months.
Internet expert Kaushik Patowary states “After leaking secret US embassy cables, whistleblower website Wikileaks has been struggling to find a place on the Internet. The site was still fending off DoS attacks when it was ousted by Amazon. With every DNS refusing to provide them with a DNS service, the website came to a halt. However, just hours after the site was eliminated from the web, Wikileaks was back on another domain - Wikileaks.ch. The website is also available through a number of other suffixes and IP addresses.”
“If you want to censor something, let’s say a book, what you need to do is get every single copy of that book and burn it. If you want to shut WikiLeaks down, you have to destroy every single copy of the website and all the contents of the website, and that’s virtually impossible,” said Nicolas Christin, associate director of the Information Networking Institute (INI), and a professor at CyLab, Carnegie Mellon University's cybersecurity education and research center who was quoted by Cyber Security daily analysis.
Despite various measures taken by the government of United States which has “all the resources in the world at its discretion” – Wikileaks remains a popular and a forefront source for insider leaks and unconventional media activism.
Can the government of Sri lanka attempt what was impossible and obviously impractical even to the Americans? The Ministry of Mass Media and Information says that on its request the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission has blocked srilankamirror.com, srilankaguardian.com, www.lankanews.com, aparacigossip9.com and www. Lankawaynews.com on Oct 2011.
How effective was the ban imposed by Telecommunications Regulatory Commission on these websites? According to Alexa website information survey, the popularity of the banned websites especially lankaenews have significantly increased after the censorship on Oct 2011.
Not only did it create new windows and horizons for the blocked websites through proxy sites, it also gave the websites a sense of impunity and vengeance to increase their rhetoric attacks against the state, high officials and government politicians. The level of responsibility in reporting further went low on the banned websites especially on lankaenews as the intensity of the media attacks against the state were tripled in months to come.
An initial response shortly after the lankaenews ban came from a committee to protect journalists from New York. The statement read: “The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that access to anti-government news website Lanka eNews has been blocked inside Sri Lanka, according to the site's exiled editor and users inside the country. All three language versions of the site, English, Sinhala, and Tamil, have not been available since Tuesday.” The report titled ‘In Sri Lanka, anti-government website blocked’ came hard on the government ban while criticizing the government heavily on the issue of a press statement. Several other harsh responses were also issued by different local and international groups on the censorship move. It is thus clear that the online censorship also attracted international condemnation which further harms the governments’ international standing on press freedom. It is clear that the government had not gained any positive grounds due to the censorship but lost in many aspects.
It is clear from the above analysis that politics based web censorship is not only misguided but also impractical and counterproductive. The cyber censorship will not serve the long term national interests but will only serve short term egos of a limited few. In this backlight – the moderate sections within the government must take charge and leadership to provide sensible guidance based on rule of reason on internet based news management.
(Udara Soysa is an alumni of Oglethorpe College, Atlanta and author of publications "The Lost Cause" and "Terrorizing Terrorists". He had also served as a diplomatic editor of several websites.)