Govt Bans Porn Websites Despite Supreme Court's Support for Individual's Right to Access

Monday, August 03, 2015
Demand for internet porn is reportedly strong in India (file photo: DNA)

The government has blocked over 850 adult websites to prevent pornography becoming “a social nuisance”, despite the Supreme Court not supporting an outright ban last month. India’s first big crackdown on internet porn has sparked an online debate about censorship and freedom in the world's largest democracy.

Demand for porn is reportedly strong in India, with Pornhub, an adult entertainment website included in the ban, saying last year that the country ranked fifth for daily visitors.

To counter this, the government has directed service providers to block 857 websites, N.N. Kaul, a spokesman at the department of telecommunications, told Reuters.

"Free and open access to porn websites has been brought under check," Kaul said.

"We don't want them to become a social nuisance."

The government, in a 17-page order issued on July 31, had listed offending sites and directed service providers to block access on the grounds of morality and decency.

Last month, the Supreme Court refused to impose a ban after hearing a petition that said internet porn fuelled sex crime. The court said individuals should be free to access such websites in private.

But the court asked the home ministry to submit its views and the government acted after the ministry sent a letter to the telecom secretary, Kaul said.

Over the weekend, several sites reportedly became inaccessible. According to DNA, those using service providers like Airtel and Tata Photon faced no problems, but the users of MTNL, BSNL and ACT ISPs said they were either getting blank pages or messages that said: “The site has been blocked as per the instructions of Competent Authorities.”

The hash tag #Pornban has, perhaps inevitably, become a trend on Twitter.

"Porn ban is anti-freedom, impractical, not enforceable. Politically not very smart too. Avoidable. Let's not manage people's private lives," novelist Chetan Bhagat tweeted.

India has the second largest number of internet users after China, with social media and smartphone use growing rapidly.

According to Reuters, India urged social network companies in 2011 to screen content and remove offensive material. A year later, the government faced criticism for ordering dozens of Twitter accounts to be blocked for spreading rumours.

Censorship covers Bollywood and Hollywood movies, with the Censor Board often forcing producers to edit dialogues and scenes that it deems inappropriate.

But trying to control internet porn could prove futile, given its popularity even among politicians. With an estimated 40 million porn websites available online, 857 may just be a drop in the ocean.

Kaul suggested the ban would not remain indefinitely and said the government was working on a long-term solution.

- Karan Singh

To Learn More:

India orders clampdown on Internet porn, sparks censorship debate (by Aditya Kalra, Reuters)

It's official. Government has banned these 857 porn sites (India Today)

Why a porn ban in India is futile (by Nirmalya Dutta, DNA)

A guide to watching porn in India—despite the ban (Quartz India)

Supreme Court says India can't ban porn: CJI says a total ban on sex sites would violate privacy and personal liberty (by Harish V. Nair, Daily Mail India)

Opposition outraged over ministers watching porn; demand resignation (PTI)

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