Law

The Government Does Not Want You Accessing Porn on the Internet Anymore

No peeking! Credit: Tim Ellis

No peeking! Credit: Tim Ellis

A leaked document supposedly originating from the Department of Telecommunications lists 857 websites – most of them hosting pornographic content – that the country’s internet service providers (ISPs) have been asked to block. The document was made available by the Centre for Internet and Society, Bengaluru. Among the sites blocked are those which serve as gateways for torrent downloads.

The document, available here, concerns what Reddit users have been suspecting since Saturday (August 1), when they noticed various porn sites weren’t loading. In some cases, the screen went blank or was replaced by a message in the browser that the sites had been blocked following orders from the competent authorities. Yesterday, Mint reported that the full effect of the blockade would become visible on Monday (August 3). More alarmingly, The Times of India reported senior government officials as saying that the order was only a prelude “to the creation of a regular regulatory oversight”.

The DoT document says it draws its authority to block these sites from Section 79(3)(b) of the Information Technology Act 2000 and Article 19(2) of the Constitution, as the department claims the contents relate to questions of “morality, decency”. Oddly enough, Justice H.L. Dattu of the Supreme Court had disagreed last month with such a ban, asking, “How can you stop me from watching it within the four walls of my room?” He added that the ban would violate Article 21 of the Constitution.

The government’s intention to block pornographic sites – for shifting reasons – was first laid bare in September 2014. Then, the DoT had convened a meeting of officials from various ministries to discuss how a web filter – technology that controls what can be accessed on the web – could be implemented across networks within India. The convention was motivated by a PIL filed in April 2013 by an Indore-based lawyer named Kamlesh Vaswani. According to him, pornography was to blame for the increasingly visible incidence of rape in the country.

However, what started out in 2014 as official concern over pornography and rape has since morphed into fears about child pornography and now vague statements about threats to morality and decency, inviting speculation that these reasons have only been excuses. In fact, most of the 857 websites in the take-down order have nothing to do with child pornography. The state’s tendentious attitude in this matter is also reflected in its concurrent attempts to revive Section 66A, also of the IT Act, which has in the past allowed it to muzzle freedom of expression on the Internet.

Incompetence by ISPs in the past also resulted in them deploying a blanket filter – which simply blocks a site if it has certain trigger-words (like The Wire mentions ‘child pornpgraphy’ in this article). This was exemplified in early 2013 when ISPs, responding to a court order, didn’t block a single, allegedly offensive article on Outlook’s website but the entire site itself. If the list of 857 grows in the future, the threat of blanket filters becomes likelier, too.

In countries where strong filters are already in place, like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, the governments are invested heavily in an oppressive system of controls – including the use of nationalised ISPs. In India, simple workarounds like the use of proxies and VPNs could bypass the blockades.

  • http://mkmathai.blogspot.in/ lisma52

    less government means more peeping into private space . great.
    a better option . ban sex itself . we have enough kids around.