ISPAI expresses inability to comply with vague and unimplementable government directive on porn

After a huge outcry against the government imposed ban on 857 porn sites in India, the U-turn came soon enough. Within four days, the government bowed to the public sentiment and announced that the ban would apply to only those websites that were abusive of children.

“New notification will be issued shortly. The ban will be partially withdrawn. Sites that do not promote child porn will be unbanned,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Information and Technology minister in an interview with India Today TV.

A letter issued by the DoT to the ISPs clearly mentioned that they were free to unblock any of the 857 banned websites, as long as they did not contain any child pornographic content.

However, the question remains how on Earth did will the government officials or the ISPs determine which site promote child pornography.

Will Indian Government start investigating each and every picture/video posted on such sites to find out whether or not they promote child pornography?

The Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) comprising of 50 members discovered the directive ‘vague and unimplementable’. ISPAI said ‘clarification’ was “unclear and amounted to an undue burden” on a matter that was beyond their control.

ISPAI wrote that they did not have any “way or mechanism to filter out child pornography from URLs and further unlimited sub-links of the said URLs in different – different name,” said the letter to the telecom secretary.

Assuring that they were totally against abuse on women and perpetration of online child pornography, they urged the government to withdraw the vague directive. And since they got no further directives from the aforementioned authorities, they continued to block all the 857 sites.

Earlier today, ISPAI wrote to Rakesh Garg, who is the Telecom Secretary. ISPAI also expressed his inability to disable selectively any of the sites banned by the DoT.

“We want a specific direction from the licensor, not an open-ended one, where the onus lies on us of the website that are not owned by us. As such, we have requested the government to provide specific URLs to be blocked or disabled,” said Rajesh Chharia, president, ISPAI in an interview with the IANS.

This latest move by the ISPAI is causing further embarrassment to the government that beat a hasty retreat from its earlier July 30 decision and tried to save its face. This latest attempt at damage control having fallen flat, the government will now be forced to take another look into the matter before the apex court of the country doles out its judgement on August 10.

How The Rest Of The World Deals With Online Pornography?

While there is no denying that online pornography tantamounts to the objectification of women, the decision of the government to impose a blanket ban on sites offering such content drew scathing criticism.

Arguably so, because no ban ever helps solve any problems.

The brouhaha that the whole episode was causing all over the media and digital space during the last few days also set us to look up into the measures other countries have in place to deal with pornography.

In the United States, it is illegal to disseminate any pornographic content to children below 18. It is also mandatory for websites containing adult content to carry disclaimers regarding the same. The definition of ‘illegal porn’ however differs from state to state.

In the United Kingdom, it is illegal to distribute pornographic material to children below 18. It is also unlawful to depict children in the sexual act, with a detailed list of extreme and sexual acts in place which cannot be produced and sold in Britain.

Leaving aside the UK, it is legal to watch and produce pornographic content in most of Europe though there are restrictions on child pornography and distribution of such content among children in countries like Albania and Bulgaria.

Canada also bans distribution of porn to kids below 18 and their depiction in any form of porn though it does not illegalize watching such content.

Till recently, Japan had no laws regarding possession, watching or distribution of such content. However, they passed a law unto that effect in 2014, which bans possession of all material that shows kids below 18 indulging in sexual acts.

One of the most authoritarian and conservative regimes, China bans producing, distributing or watching any form of porn altogether. Though the definition of ‘porn’ is porous enough to allow most content to get past the legal hurdles, if any.

While the government’s wisdom in imposing a hasty ban, the world is keen to see how the open-minded and self-proclaimed ‘forward thinking’ government reacts to the latest response of the ISPAI.

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