India Orders ISPs to Block 39 Porn Sites

Jun 25, 2013 3:00 PM PST

NEW DELHI — The Indian government has ordered the country’s ISPs to block 39 porn sites, most of which are forums that share adult content.

According to The Times of India, the sites were shuttered in compliance with a June 13 order from the country’s Department of Telecom (DoT). All of the sites are reportedly based outside of India.

The authorities didn’t specify any reason or law under which the websites have been blocked, only telling ISPs, "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."

The banned sites now show blank home pages or messages that say, "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 told The TImes he was just following orders issued by the cyber security coordination committee and couldn’t give any specific reasons for the crackdown.

But critics are complaining that the government is out of line. "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," Sunil Abraham, director of the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) said. "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."

Howver, Rajesh Chharia, President of the Internet Service Providers Association of India said ISPs have no recourse. "We are the licensee and we have to operate under the laws... we can't pushback," Chharia 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.

A new IT Act adopted in 2011 doesn't criminalize watching porn, but it allows the government to dictate how ISPs deal with porn. The rules can ask ISPs to "inform users of computer resources not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, and transmit any information that is obscene and pornographic.”

Cyber café owners — recently hit for allowing teens to watch porn — face rules that demand that they display a sign prohibiting visitors from watching porn as well as copying or downloading information that is prohibited under the law.

Abraham further said that targeting porn sites serves no purpose and just makes the taboo more appealing.

"I have traveled to China and the 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. None of the western democracies have an explicit ban on pornography.”

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