India: ‘Block Porn to Prevent Rape’

IndiaCensorshipNEW DELHI – In the wake of several high-profile rape cases in the past year, Indian officials are seeking ways to prevent future criminal assaults on women. So far, suggestions have included lowering the legal age for marriage from 18 to 16 (because, evidently, married women are not subject to rape), requiring women to dress “modestly” (no jeans, for example), imprisoning Indo-Canadian porn star and Bollywood sweetheart Sunny Leone (on charges even her mainstream performances corrupt society’s morals), and banning the consumption of chow mein because its spices precipitate a lack of hormonal control. (We are not making that up.)

The latest straw man to emerge from the government’s arsenal is a plan to filter internet pornography on the grounds porn encourages rape—and this time, officials insist they mean to carry through.

In July 2013, the Indian high court gave the central government two weeks to devise a plan for blocking foreign internet pornography. Conservatives hailed the ruling as a moral victory; liberals and moderates—including a large percentage of India’s well-educated, westernized youth—decried the decision as one too many steps down a slippery slope to widespread censorship.

Because politicians in India’s constitutional democracy behave much like politicians in any other constitutional democracy, the issue soon disappeared under a rug and was forgotten…until a conservative attorney and anti-porn crusader recently stumbled over the lump and revived the effort.

Despite the central government’s repeated argument that appropriate filtering is impractical, if not impossible, the plan to purge India’s internet of foreign porn now tasks the Internet and Mobile Association of India with curating a list of adult websites internet service providers must block.

No one except social and religious conservatives appears happy about the latest court-ordered development.

According to the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team, more than 40 million porn sites operate worldwide. Very few, if any, are located in India, where the production and distribution of porn is illegal. (Viewing the material is legal at the moment.) The government maintains its objection that attempting to filter such an enormous amount of content could slow internet access nationwide to a crawl.

ISPs object, too, saying compliance with any filtering mandate would require significant upgrades to their infrastructure.

Concerns about “censorship creep” remain in the debate, as well.

“The problem is that you are veering down a slippery ground if you try to do this, installing filters and all,” said Prasanth Sugathan, counsel for the Software Freedom Law Centre, told The Economic Times. “Such blocks have been ineffective in countries such as the UK. However, in China, where the ban on online pornography is strictly enforced, it is another story, as that country has people dedicated to monitoring content.”

Sugathan worries that once any kind of content is blocked, India will be set on the same path as China and North Korea. The government in each of those countries maintains strict control over what citizens may view online. Citizens caught attempting to subvert internet censorship are subject to stiff penalties, including imprisonment.

“The question is, should we be moving towards that or should we be respecting internet freedom?” Sugathan asked.

Rank-and-file residents who object to the plan say there are plenty of ways to skirt filters, including the use of virtual private networks and anonymous proxy servers. As evidence they cite a cartoon-porn website banned in 2009, but still available to those who know where to look.

 

Marty O'Brien

Marty O'Brien

Raised in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, Marty O'Brien was the first of the O'Brien clan to obtain a college degree. A former sports journalist, O'Brien got a peek at the inner workings of the adult entertainment industry while on an assignment to cover the Los Angeles Lakers. He joined the YNOT editorial team in late 2010 and now specializes in technology , business news and ogling starlets.

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