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Here are your three enemies who don’t want you to watch porn online

In the last 3 days, citizens of this country are facing issues accessing known websites hosting pornographic content. This obviously has led to a huge outrage as people see it as an attack on individual and private liberty. According to reports, the Department of Telecommunications has asked various ISPs to block 857 websites that host pornographic content.

This is a silly thing from a government that recently launched ‘Digital India’ mission. We are not saying Digital India means an India where porn is the first thing people watch on the net, but this sends out a signal that the Indian establishment doesn’t understand how internet works. People can still access porn through proxy servers or through torrent downloads. But officially, the government has blocked porn. And this makes the government look silly.

So what led to this silliness?

Looking at the chain of events that led to this “porn ban”, we can tell you that there are three major enemies of your porn:

The first enemy is: The Moral Police:

You might conjure up images of a man wearing a saffron robe and holding a trishul who just can’t tolerate you having fun. Everyone remembers them slapping people randomly on Valentine’s Day. But they are still to attack an engineering college hostel per se and break computers having the “stuff” at D:\Course Materials\Economics\Third Semester\Macro\Data\mfhm.mpeg

The effective moral police in this particular case are some activists and lawyers like Vijay Panjwani and Kamlesh Vaswani who have filed a PIL in the Supreme Court asking for ban on pornographic websites. In the petition filed in April 2013, they had referred to the December 2012 Delhi gangrape incident that was still fresh in the memories of most Indians. The petition linked crimes against women with watching pornography, claiming that the rapists had watched porn before committing the crime.

The petition also spoke about “revenge porn” and an affidavit by a woman whose estranged husband has posted videos of the couple’s sexual acts on various websites, was submitted.

We are not going into the merits of the arguments, but this PIL led the court to issue notices to the government on what they were doing to tackle this “menace”.

The government expressed helplessness in banning porn in August last year saying, “There are around four crore websites and when we block one, a new one comes along.” To circumvent this problem, the court asked the PIL filers, on behalf of the government, to submit a list of sites which needed to be banned. This is when the list of 857 sites was generated and submitted to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court also appears to have asked government to act tough when the government had expressed helplessness (assuming the August 29 2014 tweet by Mr. Panjwani’s to be factual). In July 2015, the Supreme Court gave the Government 4 weeks to act on this problem. This stance was taken even while the Chief Justice had said that an adult can’t be stopped from watching porn in his room.

The moral police seems to have confused everyone over the issue.

The second enemy is: The Clueless Government:

However, the moral police alone can’t take away your freedom if the government values it. In this case, the government has been found lacking the will and competence to deal with the issue.

The first notice by the Supreme Court to the Government of India on this issue, was issued during the Manmohan Singh government. The then IT Minister, Kapil Sibal, who was targeted a lot by netizens for his 66A fiasco, played it safe and didn’t goof up here. In essence, he played the waiting game.

Sibal would have recalled the outrage that had erupted after UPA government had banned the toon porn website savitabhabhi.com. He couldn’t have afforded another outrage amidst all the hate he was getting for the IT law. Perhaps this is one thing the Narendra Modi government should have also learnt. Although the government can’t ignore court orders, it can definitely play the “safe game”.

It did play safe in August last year when the government claimed that it was virtually impossible to block porn on the internet. The Chief Justice’s comment on private liberty was another reason why the government could have stuck to the position of impossibility of blocking porn.

However, for reasons known best to this government, they went ahead and gave ISPs a list of 857 websites to be blocked. What changed in the meantime?

While there is no official reaction or communication yet, which is again tragic given that this government claims to be online savvy, some BJP members have tried to argue that it is about “child pornography” only. If so, this is terribly incompetent block as most of those websites did not host child pornography. Child pornography is banned virtually everywhere, and even companies like Google actively take actions against any such incident. The government is just being silly here. This is not how you tackle child pornography.

The third enemy, and the most powerful one, is: The Archaic Laws:

Enough has been written on how badly drafted and conceived is the Information Technology Act, 2000. While the section 66A received enough attention of the citizens and the judiciary, that’s not the only thing that is wrong with it.

There is 69A, which is draconian and gives power to the government to block any website without giving them a right to hearing before the block is implemented. And there is section 67, which criminalizes “publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form”. Thanks to these two sections of the IT law, the government has all the rights to block any pornographic website without any court order.

We had pointed out problem with these sections in an article earlier published on OpIndia.com. This case should bring back the focus on IT law, because 66A was not the only problem with it.

However, the tragic part is, even without the IT law, your favorite porn website can be blocked in India. If you remember, 66A was argued to be in contradiction with “reasonable restrictions” imposed by the constitution. However, the section 67 of the IT act appears totally in accordance with the existing “offline” laws.

If the IT law is gone, Section 292 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) can be used to block websites. This section criminalizes distribution, public exhibition, and circulation of pornographic material. And a porn website does exactly that.

In fact, Section 292.2.d of the IPC criminalizes an act that “makes known by any means whatsoever” about a person distributing or circulating a pornographic material. If this action is to be interpreted in the virtual world, an act of saying “RedTube is a pornographic website” itself can attract punishment!

We should thank our stars that those who drafted the IT law did not make the above interpretation, else most of us would have been in jails.

In September last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that one of his mission was to get rid of many archaic laws in this country. It is time to walk the talk.

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