Blocking websites is not a new thing for the governments; let alone for the Bangladeshi one.
In a crackdown on media, the Bangladesh government has recently blocked over 30 online portals and news websites, including some pro-opposition media. Interestingly, Bangladesh’s telecoms regulator simply told the media that the sites were shut down on government orders, without citing any reason for the action.
One justifiable reason that can give some sort of consolation to Bangladesh’s netizens who want to see the internet in its freest possible nature is that- as the country is waging a war against terrorism, the authorities have a free pass to close down sites and social media pages on security grounds.
Ironically, the Bangladesh government action came just after one week of United Nations Human Rights Council passing of a nonbinding resolution condemning countries that prevent or disrupt access to the internet.
That resolution was passed in line with the declaration which the United Nations made in 2011 that internet access is a fundamental human right.
Earlier the Bangladesh government blocked popular social media sites for nearly about three weeks in last November after the death penalties of two eminent (war criminals) had been finalised.
The decision to restrict access to those sites were presumably made by the authorities in anticipation of retaliation by pro-war criminal extremist groups and their followers, who have attempted to create chaos and spread propaganda through social networking sites during this period.
That blocking had been done through the country’s International Internet Getaways (IIG). Now the government wants to take it a step further. It is now planning to take over the direct control of blocking any website if it feels that the site might pose security or any sort of threats to the country.
Under a Tk 150 crore project of the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (MoPT), it will establish a direct control room where it will install centralised software to block the internet traffic. The Department of Telecommunication under the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (MoPT) will host that control room and it will be run by the department staff.
It is to be noted that two years ago the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) called for a tender for to install a complete security solution in the telecom regulators headquarter. One bidder placed the lowest bid worth of Tk 25 crore to install the package within the BTRC headquarter. Later the MoPT cancelled that project on the grounds that the regulator should not have establishments like that. This was before the Department of Telecommunication was formed in the Ministry.
Where there is a will
Usually, there are three commonly used techniques to block access to Internet sites: IP blocking, DNS tampering, and URL blocking using a proxy. These techniques are used to block access to specific WebPages, domains, or IP addresses. These methods are most frequently used where direct jurisdiction or control over websites are beyond the reach of authorities.
The problem however is while technologies can be effective at blocking specific content such as high profile websites, it is not entirely possible to prevent access to those websites through proxy servers. It happened in Bangladesh when people used Facebook through proxy server even though it was blocked by the IIGs.
A proxy website acts as an intermediate source between the user and server the site being contacted is hosted on. Users send requests to proxy websites which conveys them to the site’s server. The reply received by the proxy website is then forwarded to the user’s computer. This gives an impression to ISP’s and blocking software that the user is visiting the proxy website but in reality, s/he is visiting the site which was blocked.
However, when proxies cause problems, autonomous system number (ASN) blocking provides a very controversial way to block access to particular websites. Some governments across the world Including China and Jordan have implemented that in their countries.
To make this easier to understand, each ISP has an ASN allocated for particular IP ranges it controls. If a government wants to block a website, it can “trick” its own infrastructure by allocating a smaller ASN (creating a path of least resistance) with an IP range containing the IP of the website it wants to block. This will direct routers to go to its own version of a particular website rather than the website itself.
Because of this, it wouldn’t matter whether someone types the IP address or the URL for YouTube; he/she won’t be able to access it either way because the government has fooled the router into thinking that the IP address is hosted in that particular country.
It is not known whether the government is planning on the full Monty in blocking the websites or not. Whatever it is, few things are more inimical to, or threatening of, internet freedom than allowing functionaries inside governments to unilaterally block websites from functioning on the ground that the ideas those sites advocate are objectionable or “dangerous.
Every netizen across the world would agree upon that.