Govt asks ISPs to block porn websites

The govt has asked ISPs to block hundreds of adult sites, according to three telecom operators who have received notices from DoT

In a crackdown on online pornography, the government has asked Internet service providers (ISPs) to block hundreds of adult websites, according to three telecom operators who have received notices from the telecom department.

While some telecom operators have already complied with the government order to block certain websites, the rest are expected to implement the order by Monday. A senior executive at one of the major ISPs said that the order was received late on Friday and that the company was in the process of implementing it. He declined to be identified. A spokesman for the department of telecommunications did not respond to phone calls.

While the government hasn’t said anything publicly on the censorship, access to popular pornography websites seems to have been restricted by several ISPs. Critics of the government’s move said the state should stop interfering with what adults are doing privately.

“To deprive consenting adults of the harmless fun they are having of watching porn is equivalent of what Taliban and Isis is doing to freedom," Ram Gopal Verma, director of films such as Satya and Company, said on Twitter.

Last month, the Supreme Court declined to pass an interim order to block pornography websites in India, saying “how can you stop me from watching it within the four walls of my room", in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by an advocate to ban pornography websites in the country.

Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu observed that banning the watching of pornography at home would be “a violation of article 21", the right to personal liberty, The Hindu reported.

The case is being heard by the court.

Currently, there is no law against watching pornography. The Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology (IT) Act, however, prohibit the production or transmission of so-called “obscene material". If convicted, a person can be imprisoned for as many as three years under the IT Act for publishing or transmitting obscene material electronically.

The government has usually relied on getting ISPs to block access to a particular website’s URL—its address on the Web. This method is usually ineffective as most such websites continue to operate by simply changing their URLs. In 2009, the Indian government had banned SavitaBhabhi.com, a pornographic cartoon website featuring the sexual adventures of a promiscuous housewife. The website is, however, still operational.

According to a thread on online forum Reddit, several popular porn sites are not accessible in India on Internet connections provided by Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) in Mumbai, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), Vodafone India Ltd and ACT, which are either showing blank pages when connecting to pornography sites, or “Directory doesn’t exist".

However, users on Bharti Airtel Ltd and Tikona, and one BSNL Delhi subscriber reported that all pornographic websites could be accessed normally.

Advocate Apar Gupta said on Twitter that the only way to find out whether this was a government block would be to file a Right to Information request with the telecom department.

To read the complete DoT order, click here.

Kian Ganz is with Legally India.

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