Twitter and Reddit users are reporting that state-owned ISPs MTNL and BSNL and privately-owned ISPs ACT, Spectranet, Tikona, Asianet and Hathway are blocking access to major porn websites. Mobile operator Vodafone is also blocking these websites.
While some users are just getting a This site has been blocked as per the instructions of Competent Authority, others are seeing a message that indicates that the sites are being blocked as per directions received from Department of Telecom,
Government of India. Some users are just getting blank pages or Directory doesn't exist, error message.
This move seems to have been somewhat unexpected, with perhaps the notable clue from July, when a Supreme Court bench responded to a request for blocking of porn websites saying:
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 asked additional solicitor general Pinky Anand why the MHA had not taken any action on the list of websites and also not filed any response to the petition as sought by the court. Anand assured the court that the needful would be done:
The ministry will soon file a response to the petition and detail the action taken. All necessary steps under the Information and Technology Act will be taken.
Update: Government confirmed to be behind the internet censorship
3rd August 2015. See article
The Indian government has ordered a large number of porn websites to be blocked, creating an uproar among users and civil rights groups in the country.
The Department of Telecommunications has issued orders for the blocking of 857 websites serving pornography, said two persons familiar with the matter, who declined to be named.
Section 69 (A) of India's Information Technology Act allows the government to order blocking of public access to websites and other information through computer resources, though this section appears to be designed to be invoked when a threat is
perceived to the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order.
Pranesh Prakash, policy director of the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore pointed out the illegality of the censorship:
The government cannot on its own block private access to pornography under current statutes. Parliament has not authorized the government to ban porn on its own.
However, courts have in the past ordered specific websites to be blocked for specific offences such as defamation, though as far as I know not for obscenity.
Viewing pornography privately is not a crime in India, though its sale and distribution is an offence.
Some porn websites were still accessible through certain Internet service providers on Monday, as some ISPs took some time to implement the order. All the 857 websites will be blocked by all ISPs today, said a source in the ISP industry, who
requested anonymity. As licensees we have to follow the orders.
Update: India plans to set up up a government porn censor
4th August 2015. See article
The Department of Electronics and Information Technology has asked Internet service providers to take down 857 porn websites, an official said. The official, however, said it was a temporary measure till the final orders are pronounced by the top court.
Explaining rationale for the decision, a top government official said the government has merely complied with the Supreme Court directive asking for measures to block porn sites. He said that the government would line up for the court to hear an array of
views, mostly anti-porn from NGOs, civil society, parental groups, child councillors, ISPs and government, and after hearing the views of all, let the court come with some guidelines. The official spoke of an official porn censor:
Let there be an ombudsman to take a call, like the TV ombudsman is there.
The censor could be a retired judge or somebody from the civil society. The official said all the stakeholders can give their views regarding the censorship mechanism that should be adopted for the cyber content related issues.
Update: An act of Talibanisation
4th August 2015. See article
Many are not impressed by te government censorship, Milind Deora a former Minister of State with the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications tweeted:
And the government takes one more step towards the Talibanization of India,
The latest ban is not about liking or disliking porn. It's about govt hijacking personal liberties. What'll they ban next - phones and TVs?
Privacy is my inalienable, constitutional right.
Update: And the list is...
4th August 2015. See article
See India's list of blocked porn [pdf]
The Indian Government has ordered local ISPs to block access to a list of 857 websites that supposedly link to adult material. The broad blocking order goes further than targeting dedicated porn sites alone though. Torrent sites kickass.to and h33t.to
are listed too, as well as 9Gag, Liveleak and CollegeHumor.
The Government order is quite broad, and not just because of the high number of domain names involved. A leaked copy which list all of the affected domains reveals some unsuspected entries.
For example, the list contains two of the largest torrent sites, Kickass.to and H33t.to. The first is now operating under the new Kat.cr domain name and the latter site is down, so the effects of the blockade are minimal.
blockedcollegeWhile blocking these torrent sites may be justified as both sites do link to pornographic content, the same can't really be said for CollegeHumor and 9Gag, which are also on the blacklist.
The same goes for Liveleak, which has plenty of immoral videos but isn't really known for its vast amounts of porn. Finally, the list also includes nonvegjokes.com , a site specializing in dirty jokes.
Update: Porn unbanned
5th August 2015. See article
India will restore open access to 857 pornographic websites, following widespread outrage over the censorship.
The department of telecoms told ISPs not to block porn URLs. The department tried to save a bit of face by bringing up the subject of child porn but of course none of the major porn websites being blocked have any.
Communications and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad met senior officials on Tuesday to review the ban and decided that internet service providers (ISPs) would be immediately asked not to block those sites which did not contain any
News of the ban caused a furore on Indian social media, with several senior politicians and members of civil society expressing their opposition to the move.
Update: Still banned
7th August 2015. See article
Porn is still effectively banned in India, for the supposed reason that ISPs erroneously claim that there may be child porn on some of the world's best known and loved porn websites.
The government banned porn over the weekend, but after vast amounts of criticism quickly undid the block. But it came with a catch that sites that allow child porn should not be let back online. The Internet Service Providers Association of India
(ISPAI) ludicrously claimed:
ISPs have no way or mechanism to filter out child pornography from URLs, and the further unlimited sub-links.
The ISPs do not have mechanism to check the content, as the same is dynamic in nature. Hence, we request your good self to advise us immediately on the future course of action in this regard. Till your further directive, the ISPs are keeping the said 857
Update: Even the BBC wants to tell the story
8th August 2015. See How the government was forced to reverse course
The debate has also sparked concern over what some see as a growing culture of intolerance promoted by a series of actions by the right-wing BJP government, many of whose members are self-professed Hindu nationalists.
...see the full article
Update: Moral policemen say they don't want to be moral policemen
11th August 2015. See article
India's Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi has appeared in court being quizzed about the short lived government censorship of porn websites. He now says:
How can you stop in on the privacy of your phone? The other thing is that if someone wants to watch it in the privacy of their bedroom, how can we stop that? These are now issues of 19(1).
There are many issues and we don't want to do moral policing. There is also difficulty: the websites can change their names and change their website, and it becomes difficult. We will obey court orders, but we don't want to become a moral police.
Article 19 (1) is about freedom of speech. That's pretty much what the Chief Justice had told the porn ban petitioners in the first place.
Somebody can come to the court and say, 'Look, I am an adult and how can you stop me from watching it within the four walls of my room?' It is a violation of Article 21.
Article 21 is about a right to personal liberty.
So if both were on the same page anyway, why did the government willfully slap egg on its own face and make itself the butt of jokes last week with its 857-site ban which Rohatgi himself admits the department went and blocked without verifying ?