Porn block in India sparks outrage

by Pranesh Prakash last modified Aug 05, 2015 02:10 AM
India’s government has triggered a storm of protest after blocking 857 alleged pornography websites, with privacy and internet freedom campaigners, as well as consumers, condemning the move as arbitrary and unlawful.

The article by Amanda Hodge was published in the Australian on August 5, 2015. Pranesh Prakash gave his inputs.


The order, enforced since Sunday by the country’s main internet service providers, comes amid debate about the influence of pornography on sex crime in India, and as the Supreme Court considers a petition by lawyer Kamlesh Vaswani to ban pornographic websites that harm children.

The government has been forced to defend the move, saying it was taken in response to ­Supreme Court criticism at in­action against child pornography websites, although the Supreme Court itself has refused to impose any interim ban while it considers the petition. The websites — a fraction of the world’s millions of internet pornography sites — will remain blocked until the government figures out how to restrict access, a spokesman said.

Critics have slammed the measure as unconstitutional and pointed out the list includes adult humour sites that contain no pornographic content. Others have suggested it is another intrusion into the private lives of ordinary Indians by an administration intent on pushing a puritanical Hindu agenda, citing the recent ban on beef in several states and an alleged “Hindu-­isation” of school textbooks.

That prompted outrage from Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. “I reject with contempt the charge that it is a Talibani government. Our government supports free media, respects communication on social media and has respected freedom of communication always,” he said.

While India has no law preventing citizens accessing internet pornography, regulations do restrict the publishing of “obscene information in electronic form”. Centre for Internet and Society policy director Pranesh Prakash told The Australian yesterday that some elements of that act were welcome — such as prohibition of child pornography and the uploading of a person’s private parts without consent — but “the provisions relating to ‘sexually explicit materials’ are far too broad, with no exceptions made for art, architecture, education or literature”.

Mr Prakash said the pornography ban amounted to an “abdication of the government’s duty”, given the list of sites blocked was provided on request to the government by one of the Vaswani petitioners. “The additional solicitor-­general essentially asked one of the petitioners to provide a list of websites, which she passed on to the Department of Information Technology, which in turn passed to Department of Telecommunications asking for them to be blocked or disabled.

“That is not acceptable in a democracy where it is not the government which has actually found any of these websites to be unlawful.” Mr Prakash also criticised the secrecy surrounding the order, which he said contravened Indian law requiring a public declaration of any intended ban so that it might be challenged. The bans were made under “Rule 12” of India’s IT Act, which empowers the government to force ISPs to block sites when it is “necessary or expedient”.

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