VideoLAN, the developer and operator of popular media player VLC, has filed a legal notice to India’s IT and Telecom ministries, alleging that the Indian bodies failed to notify the software developer before banning its website and did not afford it a chance for an explanation.
Indian telecom operators have been blocking VideoLAN’s website, where it lists links to downloading VLC, since February of this year, VideoLAN president and lead developer Jean-Baptiste Kempf told TechCrunch in an earlier interview. India is one of the largest markets for VLC.
“Most major ISPs [internet service providers] are banning the site, with diverse techniques,” he said of the blocking in India. The telecom operators began blocking the VideoLan website on February 13 of this year, when the site saw a drop of 80% in traffic from the South Asian market, he said.
Now, VideoLAN, in assistance with local advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation, is using legal means to get answers and redressal. It has sought a copy of the blocking order for banning VideoLAN website in India and an opportunity to defend the case through a virtual hearing.
In the notice, VideoLAN argues that the way Indian ministries have enforced the ban on the website, they violate their own local laws. The letter adds:
As per Rule 8 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 (‘Blocking Rules’) and the ruling of the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015) 5 SCC 1, government officers responsible for issuing a blocking order are required to: (i) make all reasonable efforts to identify the originator or intermediary hosting the information to be blocked, (ii) issue a notice to such person, (iii) provide a hearing to such person before the concerned authority, and (iv) provide a copy of a reasoned blocking order to the person concerned prior to the hearing. Despite this, the URL, which allows users to download VLC was blocked by the DoT without any prior notice, or an opportunity of hearing to VideoLAN.
Indian telecom operators have not explained why they have blocked the VideoLAN website, but some speculate that it could be because of a misinterpretation of a security warning from earlier this year.
Security firm Symantec reported in April this year that the hacker group Cicada, which has ties with the Chinese government, was exploiting VLC Media Player as well as several other popular applications to gain remote access to the victim’s computers. Kempf said he or his firm had not been contacted by any Indian government agency and the block is likely a result of a misunderstanding of the Chinese security issue.
But by blocking the website, India is pushing its citizens to “shady websites that are running hacked version of VLC. So they are endangering their own citizens with this ban,” Kempf said earlier.
In the legal notice, VideoLAN warns that failure to comply with its request will compel the open source firm to initiate legal proceedings. “Any such proceedings, if initiated, shall be solely at your risk, cost, and for breach of your own rules,” the notice adds.