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Futile exercise?

In an order issued late on Friday night, the Centre ordered all internet service providers to block access to over 850 pornography websites. This number is likely to increase as more sites are blocked. However, it was only until Monday morning that internet users had figured out that a number of major pornography websites had been taken down. The government’s order did not go down well with many internet users and they took to social media to criticise it. As per law, the publication of pornography is illegal, even though viewing it is not. It was in <g data-gr-id="32">2013,</g> when a lawyer named Kamlesh Vaswani filed a petition in the Apex Court, demanding that all forms of pornography on the internet should be blocked. His rationale was that by viewing pornographic material, individuals would commit rape and other crimes. 

Of course, this rationale is <g data-gr-id="31">ill-founded,</g> since numerous studies from around the world have shown that watching pornography does not increase the incidence of rape. Child pornography, however,  <g data-gr-id="38">maybe</g> an exception to the case. Also, the Apex Court ruled that you cannot regulate what an adult watches in the confines of his/her bedroom. “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 H.L. Dattu had said. Unnamed sources in the government, however, cite the Apex Court’s very own concerns over the home ministry’s failure to block child pornography. 

In light of the above circumstances, it is clear that the Centre’s decision to block porn sites en masse is ham-handed and serves no real purpose. It is interesting to note, though, what the previous UPA government had thought about a move to ban pornographic material en masse. It had argued before the Apex Court that such a move would lead to unintended consequences, causing more harm than good. “Everything would be blocked and even good literature would be blocked and it would cause greater harm,” the government told the court. The intention to block specific web pages entails a “filter” through which keywords are assessed before they are blocked. 

In light of such a move, websites dedicated to, for example, AIDS awareness will not pass through such a filter. Also, a centralized filter like the one adopted by the current ruling dispensation only increases the scope of censorship on the internet from unaccountable technicians and government officials. Moreover, this entire exercise seems like a complete waste of time. In fact one look at the efforts taken by conservative nations such as Saudi Arabia and China to ban online pornography shows us that it takes a massive amount of time and money, which this present government, does not possess. With the massive proliferation of the internet in India, it seems rather unlikely that the Centre’s limited resources would mitigate the situation. Moreover, consumers can now shift to Virtual Private Networks, which is software that is widely available and free. Citizens, who live under strict regimes, often use VPNs as their mode to dodge online censorship. Therefore, the government of the day must come up with a better solution to tackle something like child pornography instead of banning porn sites en masse.
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