India has ordered hundreds of porn sites blocked citing “objectionable” content, a government official said on Monday, according to various media reports.
The move immediately prompted a debate about censorship and freedom, according to a Guardian report.
Reports that websites had been blocked emerged over the weekend as telecommunications companies began to implement government instructions. The aim was to prevent pornography becoming a social nuisance, said NN Kaul, a spokesman at the department of telecommunications.
“Free and open access to porn websites has been brought under check,” he told Reuters. “We don’t want them to become a social nuisance.”
A 17-page government order, issued on 31 July and leaked to freedom of speech activists, listed offending sites and directed service providers to block access on the grounds of morality and decency. The 857-strong list includes some sites that appear unlikely threats, such as a number of comic sites.
The immediate reaction to the ban among commentators appeared broadly hostile.
Bestselling novelist Chetan Bhagat tweeted: “Porn ban is anti-freedom, impractical, not enforceable. Politically not very smart too. Avoidable. Let’s not manage people’s private lives.”
Porn ban is anti-freedom, impractical, not enforceable. Politically not very smart too. avoidable. Let's not manage people's private lives.
— Chetan Bhagat (@chetan_bhagat) August 3, 2015
Since the weekend, users across India have been hit with blank pages when they try to access adult sites, many of them based outside the country, sparking anger on social media about moral policing.
According to the adult site Pornhub, India was its fourth largest source of traffic behind the United States, Britain and Canada.
Kaul said the order was issued after India’s top court voiced concern last month about the government’s failure to block child porn sites in India.
“There is currently no system to filter specific websites. We are looking into evolving a system,” Kaul said, adding that until then all sites would be blocked.
The Supreme Court declined to impose a ban on porn sites last month while hearing a legal petition against them, saying adults had the right to access such websites in private.
Opposition lawmaker Milind Deora said the ban was “not about liking or disliking porn. It’s about govt hijacking personal liberties”.
“What’ll they ban next — phones & TVs?” he said on Twitter.
India has been accused of heavy-handed online censorship in the past, including in 2012 when it ordered 300 web pages, images and links on sites including Facebook and Twitter blocked, for spreading rumours it said was fuelling ethnic tensions.
Experts said the ban, which the government apparently intended to remain secret, may overstep current laws in India.
“It is illegitimate because it is not as though the government has found these websites unlawful … This is a blanket ban and the government has not thought through the consequences,” said Pranesh Prakash, of the Centre for Internet and Society, an Indian thinktank.