Porn ban: Why India’s order to block 857 websites might not work

Internet Service Providers have expressed their apprehension, saying it is virtually impossible to ban porn websites given that servers hosting these sites were  outside the country.

Written by Aaron Pereira | New Delhi | Updated: August 6, 2015 12:09 pm
porn, porn ban, porn ban india, porn ban video, porn ban india video, video on porn ban, porn in india, porn website banned india, india porn ban, porn websites ban in india, porn news india The government has asked ISPs to ban 857 websites. Image: Reuters

Over the weekend, Internet users in India were outraged over what appeared to be a nation-wide ban on pornography websites.

While those accessing the web through Internet Service Providers such as MTNL, BSNL, Hathway and Spectranet complained of blank pages, those using ISPs such as Vodafone, Airtel and cable broadband, claimed to have faced no such issues.

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The move, to restrict access to porn websites, came after a government order late Friday night asking ISPs to block over 850 websites, the implementation of which continued through the weekend and is expected to be completed by Monday.

The government’s move though, appears to have found cover under the Supreme Court’s observation that little had been done to prevent child pornography, which is illegal, from being accessed on the web.

While the government initially denied any such move, The Times of India, quoting government sources, has reported that the denial of access was a temporary one, and more of a prelude to the creation of a regular regulatory oversight. By Monday noon the list of blocked sites was also released. (Please see the document at the end of the copy)

But is such a ban even possible?

Internet Service Providers have expressed their apprehension, saying it is virtually impossible to ban porn websites given that servers hosting these sites were  outside the country.

Moreover, the government’s list of 857 websites is too small a number given that there are millions of porn websites on the web, a number growing by the day.

The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team claims there are more than 40 million porn websites around the world and most of them operate outside India from locations where porn is legal. Further, those who really do want to access porn, can do so using freely available proxy servers and location maskers.

A case in example is the government’s attempt in 2009 to ban erotic cartoon character Savitha Bhabhi. Despite the ban order, the cartoon strip was easily available on the web through multiple hosts as well as torrents. The ban on savithabhabhi.com also gave its creator Puneet Agarwal a revenue boost. Now hosted on kirtu.com, the site has a subscription model which saw its revenue shoot up 20 per cent in two years.

Growing interest

A quick look at most websites rankings show xvideos.com and xnxx.com among the top 100 websites in India. Globally, xvideos, pornhub and xhamster are among the top 100 websites accessed, according to data from Alexa.com, that tracks web surfing patterns.

In its insights report last year, Pornhub claimed India jumped three places to stand at rank four (4.6 per cent of total viewership) among countries contributing the most traffic to the site. Data for xvideos.com, that ranks 45 globally, shows 13 per cent of its viewers are from India.

Interestingly, 49.9 per cent of the India traffic on pornhub was from mobile devices, a number that’s likely to grow even more given the falling prices of smartphones and internet accessibility in the country.

porn, porn ban, porn ban india, porn ban video, porn ban india video, video on porn ban, porn in india, porn website banned india, india porn ban, porn websites ban in india, porn news india Google Trends data on porn searches over the years

Infringement on ones freedom?

In July this year, a bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu dismissed a plea seeking to ban pornography in the country, questioning whether a ban of such nature  would not be an infringement on ones freedom.

“Such interim orders cannot be passed by this court. Somebody may come to the court and say look I am above 18 and how can you stop me from watching it within the four walls of my room. It is a violation of Article 21 [right to personal liberty],” Chief Justice HL Dattu observed orally.

“It is an issue for the government to deal with. Can we pass an interim order directing blocking of all adult websites? And let us keep in mind the possible  contention of a person who could ask what crime have I committed by browsing adult websites in private within the four walls of my house. Could he not argue about his right to freedom to do something within the four walls of his house without violating any law?” the Bench headed by Justice Dattu had said.

While Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is of the opinion that the “context of Indian culture and moral obligation towards society” must be kept in mind while contemplating a ban on porn websites, it remains to be seen how the government goes ahead in implementing such a move given the Supreme Court observation and the enormity of such a task.

Full list — all the 857 websites the government wants blocked

List of porn websites banned in India