We aren't control freaks: Govt gets down to explain porn ban | india | Hindustan Times
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We aren't control freaks: Govt gets down to explain porn ban

As reactions to the government’s move to block porn sites rose to a crescendo on Monday, top communications ministry officials said it was merely meant to comply with the Supreme Court’s observations and not to curtail internet freedom.

india Updated: Aug 04, 2015 09:09 IST
Ban on porn websites
An internet user points out at a porn site showing a blank screen after being blocked by the internet service providers based on directive issued by the telecom ministry to block porn websites across the country. (AFP Photo/Manjunath Kiran)

As reactions to the government’s move to block porn sites rose to a crescendo on Monday, top communications ministry officials said it was merely meant to comply with the Supreme Court’s observations and not to curtail internet freedom.

“We are not a control-freak government and strongly object to the word Talibanisation,” communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said. “On the contrary, we are pushing for higher levels of internet use through Digital India.”

The Opposition had raised the T word to liken the restriction on porn sites to the ways of Afghanistan’s oppressive grouping.

According to data from Pornhub, one of the world’s biggest porn sites, India ranks in fifth place for the most daily visitors to the website. The website saw a total of 78.9 billion video views globally in 2014.

Prasad refused to go into the details of the action being taken, but a communications ministry official said an ombudsman could not be ruled out. “The ombudsman can hold discussions with parents’ associations, NGOs, journalists and other stakeholders on the issue,” said the official.

The Supreme Court, slated to take up the matter on August 10, had however issued no direction to block or ban porn sites. On the last date of hearing on July 8, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India HL Dattu had only asked the government to clarify its stand on a petition seeking to ban pornographic websites across India on the ground that they fuel crime against women.

“Such interim orders cannot be passed by this court. Somebody can come to the court and say, ‘Look, I am an adult 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) of the Constitution.’ Yes, the issue is serious and some steps need to be taken… the Centre has to take a stand... let us see what stand the Centre will take,” Justice Dattu had observed.

Appearing for the Centre, additional solicitor general Pinky Anand had told the court the government was willing to take action against the “offending websites”.

The matter has been pending before the court since 2013. In an affidavit filed in August last year, the department of telecommunications had told the court it had constituted a cyber regulation advisory committee under the Information Technology Act to look into the issue.

Earlier, the Centre had expressed its inability to clamp down on such sites, saying it was technologically impossible.

It could well be."It is extremely easy to circumvent these blocks, using virtual private networks and proxies that anonymise your traffic," said Pranesh Prakash, policy director at the Centre for Internet and Society in Bengaluru.

A cursory Google search on how to unblock porn websites throws up millions of how-to and guides. These make a users’ web traffic anonymous by routing it through foreign servers.

The government can try to keep up with proxies and block them, too. But proxies change every day and there are dozens of functioning proxies to choose from.

But is it legal to circumvent blocks put in place by authorities by using VPNs and proxies? There is no law in India that prohibits viewing pornography, experts say. Section 67 of the Information Technology Act only deals with "publishing obscene information in electronic form".

This has been interpreted as a measure to criminalise the posting of pornographic content online. However, accessing that content privately – such as in one’s home – is not illegal, say experts.

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