Governments still don’t get the immense gigantic nature of the Internet. There is absolutely no way to police millions and millions of web pages. The amount of web pages that have nude/semi-nude images and other erotic content is too large to list.
In fact in this particular case the Indian government did not ban pornography (which is simply not possible) as mentioned by most headlines. They went ahead and banned 857 websites for pornographic content. That’s the actual news.
It was a bureaucratic list based on probably their popularity in India. But then if you banned those 857, then another 857 would take their place. It’s like emptying an ocean with a bucket.
2. It is the “Worldwide” Web: That’s another thing that most governments haven’t figured out. Web servers are all over the world while jurisdiction of a government is based within a country. Those 857 sites could easily find a way to set up parallel sites on other servers and beat the Indian system.
Things may have worked to some extent in the pre-Internet age. You could take popular magazines and books to court and set an example. Publishing was a long-drawn process and nobody wanted to get into a long-drawn legal battle and that served as a check and a balance. That’s definitely not the case with the Internet.
3. Too many ways to beat it: There are many ways to get around visiting banned websites. There are proxy sites and anonymous surfing. You might still be able to access a site using Google cache. No matter what the Indian government tries, hackers will find a way to beat the ban and then they will pass on the information to common users.
4. What about borderline cases? Let’s say for a moment that the government spectacularly succeeds and indeed does manage to ban the thousands of popular porn sites that there are in the world. The focus will then shift to borderline cases.
What about the media sites that show umpteen photo galleries of skimpily clad women to boost up traffic? Could that be classified as porn? What about a website that shows movies that feature nudity?
It’s like opening a Pandora’s Box and soon courts could be flooded with litigation to define what sites constitute as porn or not and what can be banned and not.
5. The definition itself is tricky: Wikipedia defines pornography as “the portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purpose of sexual arousal”. That itself is a tricky definition. At one level anything that leads to sexual arousal could be called pornography.
India’s IT Act also specifies that pornography or obscenity is a crime. The definition is laid down by Section 292 which states…
…shall be deemed to be obscene if it is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect, or (where it comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items, is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt person, who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.
The dictionary defines lascivious as…
1. Inclined to lustfulness; wanton; lewd.
2. Arousing sexual desire.
3. Indicating sexual interest or expressive of lust or lewdness.
This is also a wide sweep and who’s to say what thing will “deprave and corrupt” a person and what will not? The thing is that books, magazines and newspapers are well regulated and limited in number and that’s why it’s possible to go after them.
The Internet is a different ball game altogether and nobody has the resources to go after all the porn sites in the world. It’s like a million-headed hydra which is impossible to monitor and even if you manage to cut off one head, then many will take its place.
In fact it is for this very reason that the .xxx sponsored top-level domain was introduced and even approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in 2011.
Most people in the world would agree that it is a good idea to ban porn sites altogether. However to do that is a task that is virtually impossible and also a great waste of any government’s time and resources!
(This article appeared in Sify.com)