Five things truly ridiculous about India's ban on 857 porn websites

Over the weekend, Indian internet users realised at some point that the government had gone ahead and banned 857 websites that had been deemed pornographic. But it was quickly evident that while the government may have acted swiftly in order to display compliance with a Supreme Court directive, it wasn't the smartest way to have gone about it.

So just what did the government get wrong?

1. Even non-porn sites were banned

The Department of Telecom was directed to block the 857 websites by the Centre in a bid to curb child pornography, in line with a 2013 petition filed by Indore-based advocate Kamlesh Vasvani and had taken into consideration the list of websites he has provided.

However, the list of websites for some reason also included non-porn websites like CollegeHumour.com, 9gag.com, Barstool Sports (http://www.barstoolsports.com/), ShitBrix.com, PopURLs.com. Don't ask why but they were just there, and the only presumption for now is that petitioner didn't like what he saw on them. And since it is too much of a bother to check what they were banning, the government seems to have just forwarded the entire list to Internet Service Providers. The government might argue that at the end of the day -- it is only the bigger picture that matters. That we might see them as incompetent is unfortunately also part of that bigger picture.

2. It's not only child porn sites that have been banned

The DoT is claiming that the order passed was only to block child porn websites, but as we have seen lots of other sites were blocked as well. There are now enough articles doing the rounds about how VPN will allow you to access these sites. If VPN's are too much of a hassle, you can go to proxies, torrents or even IRC. A ban that is so weak amounts to nothing. So all the government has really tried to do is comply with the Supreme Court observations and it only shows they aren't serious about this.

The UPA government had requested the court to adopt a restrained approach. Through then additional solicitor general K V Vishwananthan, it had told the court that en mass blocking of websites for porn content could prove counter-productive.

He had explained to court that good, bad and ugly websites could all get blocked if the petitioner's approach was to be implemented. "Everything would be blocked and even good literature would be blocked and it would cause greater harm," he had said.

The NDA government though seems to have been feeling particularly compliant.

 Five things truly ridiculous about Indias ban on 857 porn websites

3. Now mulling an ombudsman to monitor porn

According to one report, the government is now planning an ombudsman to monitor pornography. Now imagine one bureaucrat sitting somewhere in a deep, dark corner, and his job will be to certify porn - X, XX, XXX, ban. Instead of this, in most countries there are laws to ensure you can’t view and trade images of children pressed into pornography.

The creation of an ombudsman will leave bans to a concerned authority's discretion. How will the concerned ombudsman decide constitutes 'extreme pornography' and will there will be accepted norms in place on how to decide what to ban? This could lead to “know it when I see it” type prosecutions -- the kind that saw the Section 66A of the Information Technology Act being misused by politicians and is unlikely to provide a solution to the real issue at hand.

4. Banning  only 857 websites 

In 2010, out of the million most popular websites in the world, 42,337 were sex-related sites. That’s about 4 percent of the total websites in the world. We are now in 2015 -- the number can be presumed to have grown exponentially. Just to give you some perspective of how much more porn is being consumed, since the start of 2015, there have been over 1,320, 679, 855 searches for online porn.

An analysis of more than one million hits to Google’s mobile search sites reveals that more than 1 in 5 searches are for pornography on mobile devices. By 2015, mobile adult content and services are expected to reach $2.8 billion, mobile adult subscriptions will reach nearly $1 billion, and mobile adult video on tablets will triple worldwide.

But India thinks it can counter this by banning 857 websites. Who are they trying to kid?

5. Not being a 'Talibani government' but choosing to act without consultation

Despite the intense criticism over the ban, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad came out strongly in its defence.

"I reject with contempt the charge that it is a Talibani government, as being said by some of the critics. Our government supports free media, respect communication on social media and has respected freedom of communication always. My government is committed towards freedom on the social media and communication on the Internet," he said.

But the point is that the government could have chosen to have a debate before the ban. They could have set a committee in place (like they do with everything else) to figure out the best way to do that, but that seems like it would be asking for too much. From the beef ban, to the alleged saffronisation of our textbooks to the manner is which critical viewpoints are being squashed (the IIT Madras ban on a Ambedkar Periyar group come to mind) -- all of it only adds to the perception of a silent Talibanisation taking place. For the government, to completely ignore this is just plain ridiculous.

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Updated Date: Aug 04, 2015 12:11:46 IST