The Indian government has blocked access to the internet archiving website known as the Wayback Machine, according to media reports and people attempting to access archived sites in India.
The Wayback Machine is run by a non-profit called the Internet Archive. It trawls through the internet and takes snapshots of thousands of websites and archives immense amounts of data. It does this so that people can go back and examine what a website, official, company, or anything really might have said or shown on a webpage at a certain time in the past. Supporters of the system view it as a 'public service', as it gives people a tool to catch out liars who might have tried to erase something that they said or promised in the past.
Users who tried accessing the website on Tuesday were greeted with a message from their ISP that read – "Your requested URL has been blocked as per the directions received from the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India. Please contact administrator for more information.” For now the blocking seems to be sporadic as many users can still access the site. But users on Airtel broadband, BSNL, Hathway, and Tikona have reported a block.
With the Wayback Machine blocked, Indians will find it difficult to catch liars on the Internet. It may even hit India's attempt to root out corruption, doublespeak and is likely to make a number of government bodies less accountable to citizens.
Although the Wayback Machine is a very useful and valuable tool for public, it is not particularly liked by government bodies because it allows Internet users to catch lies. For example, on a particular date a government department may publish a circular. In future if it withdraws the circular, something that happens quite frequently whenever the government has something to hide, it could still be found on the Wayback Machine.
In recent days a number of web users have pointed out the disconnect between what the UIDAI, the agency behind Aadhaar, noted earlier on its website and what it later did. To prove there was a mismatch between the talk and deed of the agency, many internet users relied on Wayback Machine.
The Wayback Machine is also useful in keeping a record of the promises made by politicians and organisations. For example the news reports from a particular date, even when those reports have been deleted by the organisations that wrote them, could be highlighted through Wayback Machine to showcase how a government wasn't keeping its promise.
Wayback Machine has been archiving the World Wide Web for over 20 years now. It has archived over 300 billion web pages, and stores nearly 15TB of data. It is one of the most utilitarian sites on the web, and allows users to archive pages, access archived pages for free, and also get hold of several terabytes of music, movies, books, and software that are free from copyright.
Incidentally, this is the second instance when Internet Archive has been blocked in India. Back in 2014, a threat from terrorist group ISIS had prompted the government to block 31 sites, including archive.org, GitHub, Vimeo, Pastebin, and Weebly among others.
The Internet Archive meanwhile has said it wasn’t contacted by the Indian government, nor did it receive any response to its own queries about the block.