Wednesday 8 October 2008

Internet, Network and our Rights - BITS Pilani Goa Campus

I am writing this blog entry out of sheer desperation over the hopeless actions continually undertaken by our network administrators and providers in college.

I am a 4th year student of BITS Pilani Goa campus. I have been studying here for more than 3 years. In today's world, network availability and quality internet access is indispensable for any sort of academic activity. Let me recall the issues that I am talking about:
  • The entire college shares the internet over a 4 Mbps connection. This connection is further bifurcated through the use of multiple proxies for the faculty, staff and students. The exact bandwidth available to us is not made public, but I can vouch for the fact that a common google search, for which Google, Inc. takes 0.12 seconds takes well over 10 seconds to display on my room connection now, at 11pm today. (And it has been roughly the same almost every day).
  • The internet access is unavailable in our hostel rooms from morning 9 to evening 5. Presumably this has been done to increase attendance in classes. If this were so, wouldnt cutting hostel electricity be the logical next step? Is it moral to restrict someone's right over a basic necessity for something like attendance? Why not just let the grade reflect the attendance issues and let internet and other rights be left alone?
  • This semester, we have timed internet slots of 2 hours each, during which we get access to the internet - hostel wise. Did we know we were paying for this at the start of each year? Do we _want_ to pay for this? If low bandwidth is the problem, shouldn't a raise in the payments be an issue of debate? Shouldn't quotations be obtained from other service providers in search for the best deal? Have we seen any such attempt? I am afraid not.
  • Up until a month ago, I couldn't search for 'tuberculosis' on the internet because of the censorship policy.
    I couldnt search for 'chest cancer'.
    Nothing with 'teen' included.
    I couldnt apply to university of georgia because it had the phrase 'orgi' in it.
    I cannot log on to orkut to join communities for placement discussions and project discussions.
    Facebook has now been banned
    I cannot update my Linux system (fedora) with online repositories because apparently their download links have banned phrases.
    People have had to change their blog titles and had to rename sketches on their blog (remove the word 'Girl'!) to make sure they are accessible in campus.
    I could go on, and this list runs into thousands...
    I relied heavily on anonymous proxies to do this for me. And I'm not alone, a lot of my colleagues have to resort to it too. And given our bandwidth, imagine the patience that goes into such an effort. Add to that our growing censorship of these anonymous proxies by our self-proclaimed morality-keepers, the network administrators.
  • Our internal file sharing p2p network - DC (which has been the centre-stage of file search and information exchange in campus) - is in danger of being shut down because it is claimed (as per the notice put up), that it affects 'internet' bandwidth. I fail to see how much the internet bandwidth is affected by a p2p-based network which runs on a 100 Mbps network.
  • I'm afraid that if this continues, whatever we share over the network may come under surveillance of network staff and if deemed inappropriate the network facility will close down.
    I'm afraid that soon, there will be a day when each of our computers will be scanned for 'inappropriate' or 'banned' material.
    As deplorable as it sounds, these actions are still tolerable if these bans were legitimate, but 'tuberculosis' , 'chest' , 'georgia' etc. being considered 'inappropriate' ??

    Is this what we have come to?

It seems that internet usage and LAN are considered more of a privilege than a right in this campus. But are we, as students, paying for a privilege? Something that may be denied to us at the free whim of some external agency (These bans are suggested and implemented by the network admins, some of whom work for Wipro)?
Who decides the morality of these restrictive actions that affect our usage?
In any considerate society (and I believe ours is a considerate society), a person who pays for a service decides how best to use it. Shouldn't the people who pay for these services, decide how to use it best? This is how it should be, but morality creeps in, and in order to justify the incorrect actions the general fall-back claim is
'The students don't know what is right and wrong. By imposing restrictions, we prevent them from doing wrong things'
Two questions:
  • Who decides right from wrong? Should it be the administrative staff who provide the connectivity?
  • When the network admins say that a particular policy or a restriction needs to be taken to 'improve connectivity' or 'bandwidth' , are they always right? most of the times, 'NO'. There are many other ways of achieving better connectivity but those options have never been explored. My guess is that this is because our network admins are incapable of, or do not know all the different ways and do not wish to let this incapability be known to the general public. As a result, secrecy creeps in. They do whatever they want and claim it is the right thing to do. Haven't we already abandoned this kind of thinking long ago when the renaissance age crept in? Has there ever been an open debate in campus over this issue discussing these policies? I don't recall any.
Today, I was intrigued about the economic crises that have brought a lot of countries to the brink of bankruptcy.
I couldn't read the New York Times, because www.nytimes.com has been banned by our network administrators. This is what it says:
Access to the page: http://www.nytimes.com
... has been denied for the following reason:
Banned site: nytimes.com

You are seeing this error because what you attempted to access appears to contain, or is labeled as containing, material that has been deemed inappropriate.
Reading international news is considered inappropriate?
We are paying for this connection, not to be told that few of the most informative and educative sites are "inappropriate" for viewing. And by the way, who decides on the appropriateness of sites? If the network admins provide us with connectivity, does it automatically give them a right to
  • control what we do with the connection?
  • pry on our usage and violate our privacy?
  • dictate moral terms on the usage of the connection?
As an analogy, does providing us with a hostel to live, automatically entitle the wardens to impose on us a lifestyle of their liking and self-proclaimed morality? (I'm not talking about socially acceptable norms). It obviously doesn't. And similarly issues of morality should be considered separately from issues of connectivity, service and bandwidth.

When the Local Area Network and the Internet were designed and made public, they were done so as to enable everyone to stay connected without bounds and restrictions. And the internet and even intranet networks today exist between many societies across the world.
Ours is a civilized society where we have rights and liberties and duties.
Recently, various international human rights organizations, the Internet Society, Human Rights Watch, The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Association des Utilisateurs d'Internet and other civil liberties and human rights organizations have joined together to create a Global Internet Liberty Campaign (http://gilc.org). Two of their principles that I would like to highlight are:
  • The Global Internet Liberty Campaign advocates prohibiting prior censorship of on-line communication.
  • The Global Internet Liberty Campaign advocates insisting that on-line free expression (reading and writing) not be restricted by indirect means such as excessively restrictive governmental or private controls over computer hardware or software, telecommunications infrastructure, or other essential components of the Internet.
You can read more about the principles here: http://gilc.org/about/principles.html
The GILC invites all aware and conscious global citizens like us to join them.
We invite you our fellow users from around the world who are interested in taking concerted action to protect the Internet to join us in this campaign.
I would definitely support the cause of this campaign. And in case you are an open and aware internet user, I would like you to do so too.

India is a free nation. We have laws of freedom and liberty applicable to all our citizens. And as 21 yr old citizen, I am entitled to my rights. I have the freedom of equality, of speech, of religion and many others... But before we speak about that, the spirit in which these liberties were designed, were such as to enable a person to reach his or her full potential. To lead a better, richer life. To live freely. Without restrictive boundaries and fear. And in order to protect these rights, we have an independent judiciary. Independent, to make sure even the government cannot step over the line. We are the world's largest democracy. And our current rise shows that our system is successful. We should be immensely proud of that. However the global internet liberty campaign has not yet made it into our legal system, but I think it is only a matter of time before a similar set of rights are incorporated(there are many agencies already campaigning for it within India). Until then, I would hate to see the lack of such rules or norms cause inappropriate restrictions in our campus.

Although I have criticized the restrictions and policies that we are facing, I'm sure the administrative staff and faculty don't bear any ill-feelings towards the students. There is a major lack of communication and uncertainty over the right course of action. There is a fine line between trying to impose a morally effective policy and crossing over the right to freedom, liberty and information of an individual. Although the actions are noble in spirit, they are restrictive in action. I believe that the network and internet should 'enable' a student to achieve and perform better, rather than 'disable' him/her.
And for this to happen I would like to see the following take place:
  • Removal of all absurd and inappropriate timing restrictions for the internet.
  • Availability of internet connectivity in hostels at reasonable speeds (which it certainly is NOT right now). There are two ways in which this can be done:
    - Increase the bandwidth given the the ISP. This might involve increase in payments, and if this affects students' fee amount, a reasonable discussion should be put forth.
    - Search for quotations from alternative service providers who provide better service.

    In case this does not work out, then a reasonable and open debate about the restriction policy should decide the action to be taken.
  • surveillance of activities of individual users on grounds of morality should stop.
  • The connectivity staff should strive towards creating an open and free system in order to 'enable' every student in campus.
Although I have deep gratitude towards our alumni who provided us this connectivity through BITSConnect, I would like to point out the situation it is currently in. What was considered a luxury a decade ago is now a necessity, and we are being deprived of it. There is certainly something more to be demanded and done...

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice post. One sol accdg to me, is buy a data card for ourselves and let the f** admins keep their network to themselves...

PRD said...

Kudos Abhishek. A well written article. In an age where RTI and GLIC are taking the world by storm, it is indeed deplorable that the network admins of BPGC are resorting to such tactics. In fact, after a little bit of thinking, I am not even sure that the network admins now know what they are doing. Every other phrase has been banned, and now I find myself actually praying for the two minutes that it takes for a page to load - Please don't be censored, please don't be censored - in fact, I'm not even sure if my comment will be posted right now.

Frustrated BITSGian said...

Excellent article abhishek.. atlast one guy has come out and voiced every BITSGian's plight in the public.The dictatorship of what morals we are to follow by our network admin is not admissible.The irony of the situation is that we have to use the net for which v pay and v dont get a say in it.Are the admins undermining every BITSGian's anger and frustration.How long can they keep us controlled by these pointless shackles?The questions naturally arises "Are we living in a democracy","Just bcoz ours is a deemed institute are v bound 2 follow every imprudent decisions?".

RaSh said...

Amazing post Abhishek!

The net restrictions were enough to infuriate the students, but censoring DC is just not done. The problem with the administration is that they use one or two cases and then generalize them.
There are several such examples, and the authorities don't seem to care. I guess one thing which is missing in our campus is that decisions are taken without considering everyone's opinion. What happened to Audi General Body Meetings? Why can't such decisions be first discussed in front of everyone before being implemented?

High time the admins give us our RIGHTS!

nagraj c. said...

They've finally gone and done it...

They banned nyt.com...a site I used to spend close to an hour a day on...

What's next? The Economist?

This is the kind of censorship China would be proud of...What would buying a data card do? The speeds on those are akin to dial up (remember the 90s?) and you are still paying 500 odd rupees a month I think for LAN usage...

You went a bit overboard with the freedoms bit, particularly when people around the country are getting lynched for following a particular religion, but yes, this post needed to be written...

Given the reactionary cnuts our administrators are, you are likely to be dragged in front of a disco and fined a sizeable amount of money soon ala the kid in PS2 and the ones in Dubai. Ah, the novel and zealous lengths to which they go to fleece us students!

I still remember my Rs.2000 fine for 'stealing' paranthas from the mess. Any juniors heard about that one?

Ocean said...

Yeah well, the paratha incident . . .who doesn't know about it !!

gauravsingh said...

Ulti OB

At times I have prayed to God at 9 PM ki "bhagwaan ek min aur de do" coz due to slower net speed and SLOTS mail jaa hi nahin pata.

I have to come back @11 again and finish of the job obviously struggle against the slower speed and the "in apppropriate content"........wtf!

Roy said...

Great Post!..It was about time a strong stance had to be taken on the issue..Unfortunately all our "Conseil des students affaire" till date have kept themselves busy arranging "cultural meets" and playing petty politics!..The banning of dc and nyt is the last thread..the last push..Hope this feeling of "demand a change" stays and yield some positive results!

Manoj said...

An article well written
Reminds me of the Iron Curtain imposed in the U.S.S.R during cold war

Abhishek Kumar said...

I think the restrictions _have_ gone overboard now. And if this is the situation in BITS, what about the millions of colleges who look upto us as a model to emulate?

@PRD, gauravsingh: I don't quite pray during the 2 minutes, but the wait is way too frustrating and it discourages me from surfing the net.

@rash, roy: yes, they generalize things. To be more precise, they search for excuses to implement what they feel is right. Open debates, I feel, are required. How about asking the CSA to put up such a meet inviting all department reps, LUG, SUG, CS faculty and if possible even ilug-goa members to discuss productively about the solution? (before that, the network admins will have to be told to spill out the exact nature of the problems) It will have to be the current 3rd yr students who will have to take initiative in this regard. 4th yearites are almost out of campus in another 2 months, while the 2nd yrites dont yet know the system inside out.

@nagraj: I sure hope I'm not fined for this. It goes against my right to freedom of expression too, but who cares?

And just so everything is clear, the intention of this post is not to slander, but just to raise a voice.

Bad_Sector said...

i cant expect to stay awake after 12 in the night..
so the time i get net is from 7-9 pm and 11-12 PM.(Awing net timings)
3 hours a day!!Great!!Awesome!!

restriction is the mother of revolution..

And if DC is blocked....We ll b frogs in the well..
They dont look for good things in net and Dc...there is always something bad in everything..

HeWhoMustNotBeNamed said...

If they know how to restrict....

They also should know there are people...who can always bypass their restriction.....

Anonymous said...

Access has been denied 127.0.0.1!
Access to the page:

http://www.bits-goa.ac.in/adrem2009/index.php

... has been denied for the following reason:

Banned phrase found.





This is the page for BIO-International Workshop hosted by bits-goa site..

can some1 temme why its banned?

Vigilante said...

Bio-sensor site: Its working now. That message comes sometimes when the connection is too slow or something. Happens sometimes with every other website.

me, as i am said...

kick-ass post!

incompetent people making a mess out of the network resources when we have way better people here, random notices being put up that embarrass a premier institution like BITS, and the list continues.

the government of india believes us to be grown up adults who are capable of handling their own lives, but sadly the administration of the college doesn't think so...

Angad said...

Very well put.

Lets call for a GBM...

Anonymous said...

poor
G'ites

flee to pilani maan

Raghav said...

Great Post!

I am from Pilani and the post definitely moved me.. i hope it does to people up there and inspires them to take a stand and sort this issue out.

Every single minute wasted on the waiting arena accumulates more and more anger and frustration in oneself.. Hope you all can channelize it!

All the best.

rashanality said...

great post :)

btw..il be suing you for foto courtsey :P

Anonymous said...

well...what do u really do if something like this happens in pilani??

pls do post...we want to know..

Chinmay Kulkarni said...

Hmm... if only it happened in Iraq... we could sell it to CNN!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Soumyadeep said...

fortunately im away on ps2 n downloading away on a 1 mbps conx at home :)

but seriously guys, wats the use of venting it out in a blog? take the issue up with the so-called elected representatives. how come their balls go right back up wen it comes to getting some changes done in the coll?

im pretty sure that wen i get back things will remain the same. n its not just the net - the transformer, the absurd time limits at the gate, the unavailability of opt-out frm the damned mess etc etc.

thats why im gonna take yet another wireless net conx thr just like i did for the last 2 yrs :)

Abhishek Kumar said...

@Anonymous 1, nagraj: The wireless connection does give pretty decent speeds (2-20 kbps downloads) compared with campus net connection. Add to that 24 hr net availability without censorship and you will realize that the only downside is the monthly payment.

@Anonymous 2: Yes that error comes up every now and then for a lot of links when the speed is slow. Keep refreshing and if you're lucky, the page will open. [:)] (btw for bits goa site, use http://10.10.10.109/)

@ Anonymous 3: Pilani can't take in more ppl, that's the reason why Goa Campus was started in the first place.

@ Anonymous 4: 'plz do post' I dont know what to post coz I dont know the situation there at Pilani. And hopefully, such a situation shouldnt ever happen there. But if it does, the only thing you can do is get to root of the problem and find the solution from there on. I was at Pilani last summer (PS1), and we had some issues getting the mac based auth working with the IPC, but then on the speeds there were decent (probably because there weren't many students in campus then).

P.S. Non-anonymous comments would be appreciated.

Abhishek Kumar said...

@nagraj, you say I went overboard in the 'freedoms' bit. Well, here's some food for thought:

In 1996, the United States congress passed "The Communications Decency Act". The Act was Title V of the Telecommunications Act which affected the Internet (and online communications). It attempted to regulate both indecency (when available to children) and obscenity in cyberspace. The Law was blocked as Parts of the earlier and much broader Communications Decency Act had been struck down as *unconstitutional* by the Supreme Court. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communications_Decency_Act

Soon after a new, narrower legislation called "Child Online Protection Act" (COPA) was passed. The Global Internet Liberty Campaign members responded wordwide criticizing Clinton (then president). Here is one of their famous letters: http://www.cyber-rights.org/gilc/gilc-cda.htm.

The federal courts have now ruled that the law violates the constitutional protection of free speech, and therefore have blocked it from taking effect. Several US states have since passed similar laws. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_Online_Protection_Act)

I know the situation in India is drastically different, but why should that stop us from wanting freedom?

ranjith said...

Hi,

The restrictions you are talking about seem very unreasonable...

I am a passout from VNIT (Nagpur), and during our college days, we didnt have network provided by college. We indivudually had to get broadband connection from outside (and some of us shared it with frnds). That way y we had no restriction and full value for money (we can choose which connection plan we want). you can try to do something similar in your college also. Hope it helps.

Abhinav Raj said...

Awesome post... Was waiting for someone to point out all glitches nd restrictions in our net connection...coz last whole sem it was us running to Server room evryday for pointing out points written here to d Wipro guyz (still no steps taken)...Hope now d administration reads this and does sumthing for our "NET LIBERTY".. :P :P

Pranav said...

waise to campus me nahi hoon,bt alrdy had a taste of a bit of it whl thr.the thing to pity most is the fact that some guys outside the campus admnstrtn actly make such stpd policies(wipro wale!!!)..too pathetic...bt gr8 post!!

Ravemzsdin said...

Violation of RTI Act nothing more,but if u"l demand info on this,u"l get a pink slip with the signature of a warden n some 0s added after 1 or 2.
Thats wat sadens me,living in a democratic free republic & yet bounded.

PS:
Btw if u want u can mail this to all the faculty and director,Its complete elaboration of any BITSian sitting in front of his/her comp & getting iritated even if he/she has to send an important mail.

Anonymous said...

HI Its great that you have presented the problem in a manner that every one can understand.I apprecaite u coming up and posting it to the director.But i dont think
blogging of an internal campus matter into the outside world is acceptible.BITS has a great name all over the world.Dont give out a wrong impression to the outside world.I advise you to remove the blog immediately. try to sort out the problem internally.

mandark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mandark said...

Nice post...just the right amount of bite....have a couple of more things to say though..

-Why is the issue of comparison with Pilani network restrictions cropping up at all? Just because certain policies are followed there does not automatically make them acceptable in Goa campus

-(@ ravem's comment about mailing people) Gmail doesnt work most of the time, and the less said about the BITS mail server, the better :P..So seems like a recursive kinda situation, doesnt't it?

-As for the banning of p2p softwares for reducing the 'load on internet', (and this is a doubt)...is there any conceivable reason why this might happen? (One would think network experts had some concrete basis in mind before making such sweeping statements)

Vineeth said...

Frankly speaking I din read the whole blog; but did read the mail by Shubham.

re-quoting Soumyadeep, The elected members, starting from hostel reps, should address the concerns of students and in my 4 yrs in BITS; I found many of them (there were exceptions) behave indifferently or take a pacifying attitude towards the authority, and so at times doing harm rather than good.
Remember; the elected body represents the entire student body and their immunity should be properly utilized, thats what they are elected for and not just for certificates that they get.

Manoj said...

i have never seen any campus ppl so much frustu with thr hostel life ....
grt article ... even fellow losing billion bucks due this US financial crisis is so frustu ... ...

mandark said...

For background regarding BITS Pilani's RTI policy - http://discovery.bits-pilani.ac.in/rti.html

Makes a strong case for some of the info requested, I'd say..

Danny Dude said...

very well written buddy!! hope it has d desired effect.. looks like iisc inspired you!!! :P

BITSGian said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
hittu said...

Finally...freedom..

but for every thing we ask....director says..
i am not incharge...there are commmittes to do :(

Anonymous said...

For those who think that the bits maggi revolution 09 happened just because of a ban on electrical applicances, you are wrong (the other posts have been removed, so i am commenting here)

It was not just electrical appliances and maggi. that was the last straw. For the last year or so, students were fined recklessly for almost no fault.
All freedom was curbed and students were being treated more like prisoners in a campus. Driving outside (even with a valid license) had a fine of 2000, hostels locked down at 11.30 pm sharp with fines for those who enter late. Birthday parties in student hostels resulted in the warden coming down and slapping the students concerned. Heavy fines for many other minor events. This was bound to happen sometime. The mess food being pathetic, maggi was the only resort for hungry people at night, and these being banned was the last straw.

Anon Journalist said...

More about the revolution at BITS Goa: http://iitashish.blogspot.com/2009/04/resignation-in-bits-goa-repercussion-of.html?disqus_reply=7933824

Anonymous said...

Hi
i passed out of bits Pilani in 2007.

The things u mention in your blog, have happened in bits -pilani TOO way back before u even joined bits goa. we had restrictions too. But we dealt with it by approaching the administration and resolving it.

even in iit(s) some of them- there is no internet after 830pm.

I even heard that agitations are taking place for the chief warden to resign..some people are using nasty language against the administration in blogs...(that is their right...i cant deny it,but show some decency)

sorry day for GREAT INSTITUTION BITS-PILANI.

some students are calling themselves freedom fighters.

Kindly talk it out with the administration - there are people - the dean swd , vice chancellor...
MR l.k maheswari will listen to the students..

i ask you to forward a request to your student body to talk with the people at pilani.

Please preserve the dignity of bits-pilani.

With regards,
an ex pilani student..

PS: many people at pilani feel that your students assocs shud start a agigation to rename your campus... bits goa..

MysticalMagic said...

Dear bitsian 2007 passout.. what dignity are you talking about?

When a student can be slapped in a DISCO without a fair trial or proof of guilt, isn't the student's DIGNITY being destroyed?

When national and state laws allow students to drive a bike on the state roads (with license), what right does the college have to fine an amount as high as 20000rs? Isnt that destroying the DIGNITY of the students?

When the warden comes and slaps students for celebrating a birthday party in the hostel, isnt the student's DIGNITY being destroyed?

There are many more examples but i don't want to write all of them because it will be endless...

And you talk about dignity.
People like you would prefer to live in humiliation than stand up for urselves.

BITS Pilani's dignity is not gone with this incident. it only shows that the students can stand up for their basic rights. even other colleges including NITs and IITs have had much worse revolts. It has not spoilt their any dignity, but has only improved the situation by meeting student demands. even bits will follow in this path.

Abhishek Kumar said...

Disclaimer: Due to requests from a large number of students at BITS Goa I have removed a comment by "BITSGian" about a campus event that took place on 7th April 2009.

Anonymous said...

April 7th 2009...A date that will forvere live in infamy!!! :D Long live the revolution!!!

kimberly said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
javieth said...

A good network card always garantee a good connection,therefore it is important to choose the appropriate.Understand how the network card work is easy, now we have a lot of information about it and if you have continues problem is better solve as soon as possible. Related to this, in some particular situation costa rica investment opportunities helped me to decide the best investment.

Anonymous said...

hey could you tell me what data card gives the best speed in the goa campus..we have to look for alternatives!!! :P

Thiruvikraman said...

I disagree with the point that one who pays for a service decided how to use it. You are paying for a service which comes with some fine print. If you have a grievance regarding normal sites being termed 'inappropriate', surely that can be sorted out. Surely an institution has the right to frame some rules regarding what sites can be accessed. At this right, you will say that I pay the rent for the hostel room, so I can do anything within its walls. You are only paying the rent for the room, you do not own.

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