NEW DELHI,(GGS NEWS) 26 JUNE : The government has decided to put a blanket ban on several websites that allow users to share pornographic content.
In an order dated June 13, department of telecom (DoT) has directed internet service providers (ISPs) to block 39 websites. Most of them are web forums, where internet users share images and URLs to download pornographic files. But some of these websites are also image hosts and file hosts, mostly used to store and share files that are non-pornographic.
While watching or distributing child pornography is illegal in India, watching adult pornography is not banned. The blocked websites are hosted outside India and claim to operate under the 18 USC 2257 rule enforced by the US. The rule specifies that producers of pornographic material are required to retain records showing performers were over 18 years of age at the time of video or image shoot.
The DoT order doesn’t specify any reason or law under which the websites have been blocked. It says, “It has been decided to immediately block the access to the following URLs… you are accordingly directed to immediately block the access to above URLs.”
If a user visits the blocked website, he/she is either shown a blank page or a message telling “this website has been blocked until further notice either pursuant to court orders or on the directions issued by the Department of Telecommunications”.
A senior DoT official, who pleaded anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said the department was just following the orders issued by cyber security coordination committee and hence could not talk about the specific reasons behind the block.
Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), a Bangalore-based organization, says blocking of pornographic website is overreach on the part of the government.
“In the case of file hosts and image hosts, which people use for various purposes including for storing personal files, the DoT order is a clear overreach,” said Sunil Abraham, director of CIS. “Even in the case of pornography, there is nothing in the IT Act that can be used to block websites hosted outside in India.”
He added, “There is a possibility that government is interpreting some sections of the IT Act to suit its purpose but I feel that is wrong and should be challenged in the court by ISPs if they care about the rights of their users.”
Rajesh Chharia, president of Internet Service Providers Association of India, said that it was not possible for ISPs to pushback orders from DoT. “We are the licensee and we have to operate under the laws… we can’t pushback,” he said.
“But I feel ideally the government should ask the people who have produced objectionable content to remove it from the web if these people are in India… If they are outside, the websites should be blocked at the international cable landing stations. Involving 150-odd ISPs to implement an order is not the right way to do it,” added Chharia.
Though IT Act doesn’t criminalize watching porn, the new rules notified in 2011 have certain provisions that show the government wants to dictate what people watch or do not watch on the web. For example, the rules ask an intermediary like an ISP to “inform users of computer resources not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, and transmit any information that is obscene and pornographic”.
The rules meant for cyber cafe owners specify that they “shall display a board, clearly visible to the users, prohibiting them from viewing pornographic sites as well as copying or downloading information which is prohibited under the law”.
Abraham says that going after pornographic websites, and that too in a non-transparent manner, serves no purpose.
“I have travelled to China and Middle East and have seen that people access pornographic websites using various web tools. In fact, by banning websites the governments have made it more alluring for users to watch and access pornography,” he said. None of the western democracies have explicit ban on pornography.
Abraham added that Indian government should also be more transparent about blocking websites because the current method was prone to abuse. “They should notify owner of the blocked website, clearly tell web users why a website is getting blocked and tell public how many websites they have blocked.”