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On Friday, DoT asked ISPs to block 857 sites, listed by an Indore-based advocate Kamlesh Vaswani in a public interest litigation that is being heard in the Supreme Court, asking that pornography be banned in India. Photo: iStockphoto
On Friday, DoT asked ISPs to block 857 sites, listed by an Indore-based advocate Kamlesh Vaswani in a public interest litigation that is being heard in the Supreme Court, asking that pornography be banned in India. Photo: iStockphoto

Porn websites ban effectively in place as ISPs seek clarity

ISPAI has written to DoT saying its members will continue to block the 857 URLs mentioned in a govt note, till they receive clearer directions

In a twist to the ongoing porn site ban controversy, the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPAI), the main lobby group for the country’s Internet Service Providers (ISPs), has written to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) saying its members will continue to block the 857 URLs mentioned in a government note, till they receive clearer directions.

“The ISPs don’t have mechanism to check the content, as the same is dynamic in nature, hence we request your good self to advise us immediately the further course of action in this regard. Till your further directive, the ISPs are keeping said 857 URLs disabled," the letter signed by Rajesh Chharia, president of the ISPAI, to the DoT secretary, said. A copy of the letter has been reviewed by Mint.

On Friday, DoT asked ISPs to block 857 sites, listed by an Indore-based advocate Kamlesh Vaswani in a public interest litigation that is being heard in the Supreme Court, asking that pornography be banned in India. The order led to outrage on social media and other platforms, including open letters to the Prime Minister. This led communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to call a meeting of the relevant senior government officials, including DeitY secretary R.S. Sharma and additional solicitor general Pinky Anand, late on Tuesday.

Soon after, DoT forwarded a directive from the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) stating that the ISPs were free not to disable any of the 857 URLs, “which do not have child pornographic content." This essentially meant that the government was putting the onus of the ensuring that none of the sites carry the illegal content on the intermediary.

The ISPAI letter argues that this is against clause 7.12 of the Unified Licence agreement signed by the ISPs and the DoT, which says that the licencee has to block sites and URLs or individual subscribers, in the interest of national security or public interest, once identified by the licensor i.e. the DoT.

“The site and content owner can change the content any moment without information to ISPs," the letter said.

The government claimed soon after its original notice asking for the blocking of sites that it was only following the Supreme Court’s directions.

“The instant action is basically in obedience to the observation of the Supreme Court where the court asked the department to take action on the list of alleged porn sites provided by the petitioner," a senior DoT official had said, when the directive was issued.

In the 8 July hearing, the Supreme Court declined to pass an interim order to block pornography websites, in response to Vaswani’s PIL. It said preventing people from watching pornography in private would violate their constitutional rights. The case is expected to come up again for hearing on 10 August.

The Supreme Court also asked the government for an affidavit explaining its stand. In the last hearing, the Supreme Court gave the government a final four weeks to submit an affidavit on what it was doing to tackle child pornography, among other related issues.

The government is looking at asking the Supreme Court to appoint an ombudsman so that the issue can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis—as and when a website with child pornography is found, it will be dealt with by the ombudsman.

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