Late last week, the buzz was around how certain Internet service providers had started blocking some porn sites. It has now emerged that the government had sent orders to ISPs to block over 850 porn websites.

Citing a source related to the matter, The Economic Times report states, “The telecom department sent an order to block 857 websites late on Friday. That is probably why only few ISPs have blocked these over the weekend.” And, here’s a new ‘ban’.

The report also adds that ‘the industry was not completely willing to help the government to block porn until it comes up with clearer definitions around what can be blocked and what cannot’.

Last week, a Reddit India thread, disclosed strong reaction from netizens on porn websites being inaccessible and are either showing a blank page or the message, “The site has been blocked as per the instructions of Competent Authority.”

Users of MTNL, BSNL and ACT broadband have claimed that porn websites aren’t opening on their systems whereas Airtel, Tata Photon and cable internet users are not facing any such issues. According to Legally India, on one of Delhi’s broadband providers Spectranet, 11 out of the world’s 13 most popular porn sites were inaccessible.

When we tried verifying it on an MTNL Mumbai connection and popular sites such as Pornhub and Youporn would not open. It seemed like the service provider had blocked sites with terms such as ‘porn’ in its title.

Court orders

“The meeting of the Cyber Regulation Advisory Committee was triggered by a directive from the Supreme Court, which is hearing a petition by a lawyer seeking to ban porn as it leads to “activities like rape, harassment, molestations of women”,” the report further adds. On July 8, the matter came up before a bench headed by the Chief Justice.

According to a Supreme Court order, adults watching porn in the confines of their home is not a crime. In fact Chief Justice HL Dattu has even gone to the extent to say that it violates the Right to Personal Liberty.

According to this report in The Hindu, Chief Justice HL Dattu had said, “Such interim orders cannot be passed by this court. Somebody may come to the court and say look I am above 18 and how can you stop me from watching it within the four walls of my room. It is a violation of Article 21 [right to personal liberty].”

In the past

Banning porn isn’t an abrupt decision and the government has been looking at ways to do so for some time now. Late last year, a meeting was held primarily focussed on dealing with issue of pornography in India, and how the government could ensure that access to such sites could be banned completely. Minister of Communications and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad was present, along with Computer Emergency Response Team of India (CERT-IN) head Gulshan Rai, officials from DoT, Deity, CBI, and representatives of industry bodies like IAMAI, FICCI, ASSOCHAM, CII. ISPs were reportedly asked to make a list of sites that can be banned.

Reportedly, based on the minutes of the meeting, it was suggested that content blocks would not be effective in India since the sites are hosted outside and firewalls are often bypassed via proxy servers. Rajesh Chharia of ISPAI proposed that India would need a list of blacklisted pornography sites by autonomous bodies / NGOs.

A Medianama report last year had pointed out that Subho Ray of IAMAI suggested “filtering of pornographic content at the level of cable landing stations before such content reaches ISPs” as well as hotline to report “objectionable sites.”

In mid of 2013, Department of Telecom (DoT) had directed Internet service providers to go ahead and block access to about 39 websites that allowed users to trade pornographic content. The ban encompassed forums where explicit images were shared and downloaded and URL to such images shared. However, the central government has expressed its inability to block all international pornographic websites in India owing to technological and legal constraints.

What next

While many agree it is right to treat the issue of child pornography and revenge porn seriously, the idea of a web filter that is being proposed increases fear that it won’t just be restricted to pornography. The government now has a list of over 800 sites, but it raises questions on what else would be considered pornography in the future. Will cartoons and GIFs that are often NSFW (but not necessarily porn), get banned in the future? Despite it being a stretch to call them pornography? Would nude photos get banned too? What about lingerie ads? The list of what could constitute as pornography or anti-Indian culture is endless.

Twitter was quick to react to this development

Publish date: August 3, 2015 8:34 am| Modified date: August 3, 2015 9:20 am

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