India govt reverses ban on porn websites

NEW DELHI • India has reversed a controversial order banning hundreds of porn websites, a government official said, after accusations of heavy-handed censorship in the world's largest democracy.

Last Saturday, the telecommunication authorities had directed Internet service providers (ISPs) to block 857 websites on "morality and decency" grounds and to curb child pornography, the first major crackdown on online pornography in the country.

But the ban drew criticism and public ridicule, forcing the government to cancel the order late Tuesday and direct the ISPs to allow access to the banned websites, except those containing child porn.

Although the government has cancelled the order, some service providers said they would not lift the block until they have more clarity, as the new order puts the onus on them to prevent access to child pornography.

"This is a very vague order. There is no clarity and until we get clear answers, we will keep the websites blocked," Mr Rajesh Chharia, head of the Internet Service Providers Association of India said.

The authorities had argued the ban was necessary after India's supreme court voiced concern last month about the government's failure to block access to child pornography on the Internet.

Next week, the top court is again scheduled to hear the petition to ban online porn outright. Judges observed during a hearing last month on the petition that adults had the right to access adult sites in private.

According to the adult site Pornhub, India was its fourth-largest source of traffic behind the United States, Britain and Canada last year. India has been accused of heavy-handed online censorship in the past, including in 2012, when it ordered 300 webpages, images and links on social media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, to be blocked.

It said they were being used to spread rumours that were fuelling ethnic tensions.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2015, with the headline 'India govt reverses ban on porn websites'. Print Edition | Subscribe