Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Order blocking porn sites a Modi "ruse" to create a government controlled web filter in India?, wonders NYT

By Our Representative
In a stinging article, the “New York Times” (NYT) has accused the Government of India (GoI) of “blocking” India’s 857 porn sites “without warning or explanation”, in defiance of a Supreme Court “decision.” Quoting Nikhil Pahwa, editor and publisher of MediaNama, which monitors digital policy, NYT says, this has sent fears that the GoI is “using pornography as ‘a ruse’ to create a government-controlled web filter for India.”
“This one is a clear attempt by this government to control the Internet in India,” the top American daily quotes the expert as saying. “It’s not just one incident. There are numerous battles, all linked to one another, for free speech and Internet freedom that are being fought in the country right now”.
Interestingly, the Modi government has followed footsteps of Pakistan, where the government similarly blocked 1,000 sites in 2011, with the decision to add "more" to the list. The Pak decision also led to internet service providers saying there was a list of "over 170,000 websites", and it was "not feasible for any operator" to block all of them.
Qualifying the Modi government decision as the single most important incident of banning so many number of websites at one time, David Barstow, writing in NYT says, the Government of India just followed the list provided by “an anti-pornography activist.” And no sooner the blocking was effective, there was a rush to see whether particular sites had been blocked.
“Within hours, social media platforms in India lit up with complaints from people trying to visit pornography sites only to find either a blank screen or a cryptic message saying the site had been blocked ‘per instructions’ from India’s Department of Telecommunications”, NYT says.
“Because the government made no official announcement about why it was censoring so many websites, much remained unclear about its intentions, including how it chose which sites to block. According to Internet service providers in India, thousands of other pornography websites were unaffected by the order”, it adds.
The top daily underlines, “Adding to the confusion, the government acted just weeks after India’s Supreme Court declined a request to block access to online pornography. In rejecting the request, India’s chief justice, HL Dattu, said adults had a fundamental right to watch pornography within the privacy of their own homes.”
The man who whose list the Government of India acted is Kamlesh Vaswani, a lawyer who failed to persuade the Supreme Court to block online pornography. NYT notes, now, after the blocking instructions went out to internet service providers, he thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “taking a step that the Supreme Court would not.”
Vaswani, 43, is a private lawyer from Madhya Pradesh “decided” to begin a legal crusade against online pornography in response to the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a New Delhi bus in 2012. With help from a college engineering professor, Vaswani “analyzed” traffic data for pornography websites and came up with a list of the most popular sites. This list of 857 websites is what he asked the Supreme Court to block.
“After the Supreme Court rejected his petition, Vaswani gave his list of 857 websites to Pinky Anand, once a top lawyer for Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and now a top lawyer for Mr. Modi’s government. It was Ms. Anand, he said, who delivered his list to the Department of Telecommunications”, NYT notes.
The letter asking internet service providers to block pornographic sites did not give any reason, NYT says, quoting Dinesh Chandran of the Asianet Satellite Communication Ltd. “It is a simple letter with instructions to block the aforesaid websites The government gives no explanation for why it wants a website blocked, and internet service providers have little choice but to comply. For us, the Department of Telecommunications is the government.”
As for government officials, they too have no explanation. While one official, quoted by NYT, says, the decision to block the sites was taken because they were “found to be spreading antisocial activities as hyperlinks”, another said, “the ban was temporary, in place only until the government adopted new regulations to block child pornography.”

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