Reverse the block on DuckDuckGo. We wrote to the Government. #WhatTheDuck

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Tl;dr

DuckDuckGo is an incredibly popular web service, which has for years been endorsed by respected technologists as a privacy preserving platform for searching the public internet. Yesterday, close to 300 reports were received by us concerning the inability of internet users in India to access DuckDuckGo through the SaveTheInternet platform. Today, we wrote to the Telecom Department and the IT Ministry. We have also filed RTIs.

First, who sanctioned this Duck Hunt?

DuckDuckGo is a privacy respecting search engine that has a wide user base in India. Respect by technologists globally and presenting an alternate model to surveillance capitalism it presents a successful deployment of a rights respecting product. Hence, when yesterday around noon when reports start filtering in that users in India could not access it, many thought it was a technical error with a specific internet service provider.

To gather the reason behind it we promoted active reporting through the SaveTheInternet.in. This tool till date has gathered close to 1500 reports, and yesterday close to 300 people all across India, from various cities and towns, with different types of internet connections serviced by several ISPs reported this common problem. This lead us to believe that the reason for this block, was a direction by the Government.

To address this, today we wrote to the Department of Telecom and the Ministry of Electronics and IT. We called on them to:

  1. Issue a press release setting out in a detail the reasons for a direction to block DuckDuckGo, if any. This press release must be accompanied by the legal order if it does exist.
  2. If such an order does exist, examine options to keep it in abeyance till the opportunity of hearing and defence is provisioned for the owners and users of DuckDuckGo. Here, ordinary internet users should be provided an opportunity to present the use cases and value the platform provides to them.
  3. We restate our larger asks for wider reform are contained in the prior representation dated June 09, 2020 bearing reference number IFF/2020/139 that calls on a overhaul of the website blocking process that suffers from secrecy and a lack of public participation.

You can read the text of this representation and the reports at the bottom which links to all our documents. As we identified in our prior blogposts the problem of website blocking is widespread in which secrecy is a threshold problem which must be addressed through comprehensive reforms. We have also filed RTI requests specific to the DuckDuckGo block. In our requests to MeitY and DoT, we have asked them provide us with a copy of the blocking order pursuant to which the website was blocked as well as information with regard to the specific ground under the IT Act which was invoked  for the blocking.

We are committed to keep working on this and will provide regular updates. We will persevere and succeed.

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  1. Representation to the Department of Telecom dated July 2, 2020 on the blocking of DuckDuckGO [link]
  2. Representation to the Department of Telecom dated June 9, 2020 on the blocking of WeTransfer [link]
  3. Top-level analysis of 4000 URLs blocked under court orders made available under RTI [link]
  4. Latest updates on the strategic litigation to challenge the website blocking of Dowry Calculator pending before the Hon'ble High Court of Delhi [link]