Confused ISPs refuse to disable any of 857 porn website

The government’s efforts to block more than 850 pornographic websites has been tangled up in knots, with internet service providers (ISPs) refusing to “disable” any of the portals because they are confused by the order issued by authorities.

 The department of telecommunications had initially directed the ISPs on July 31 to disable 857 websites under provisions of the Information Technology Act and the Constitution, triggering a raging debate regarding the curtailment of personal liberties.

Following the uproar, the department of telecommunications informed the ISPs that they were “free not to disable any of the 857 URLs which do not have child pornography”. The onus for detecting which of the websites have child pornography was placed on the ISPs, experts said.

The Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) has now decided to approach the communications ministry to seek clarification on the definition of pornography and child pornography and the parameters that violate it.

“We will make a representation today after meeting with our members, seeking clarity on yesterday’s order that puts the onus of identifying the child porn sites on the ISPs,” ISPAI president Rajesh Chharia told Hindustan Times.

ISPAI has more than 50 members, including telecom service providers such as Airtel and Reliance Communications who have ISP licences and pure play ISP licences.

Some of the questions that ISPAI plans to raise include: How do service providers identify a site that has content which is child porn? Can ISPs block a site based on the porn artists’ age? How do they get birth certificates to prove a porn artist is more than 18 years of age?

Another factor being weighed by the ISPs is the possibility of adult porn artists filing a case if their websites are blocked without proof of age. They would also like to ascertain the recourse available to ISPs in India under the law in such circumstances.

“The porn sites are dynamic, what I see now may not have a single child porn, but within an hour, they might provide a hyperlink to child porn. In India, the definition of pornography changes in every state,” Chharia said.

In the absence of a definition for pornography and child porn, ISPAI has held informal discussions with ISPs and decided to suspend action against the 857 websites till the department of telecommunications provides clarity on the issue.

The order issued by the authorities on Tuesday allowed ISPs to restore access to those of the 857 “banned” porn and humour websites that did not feature child pornography. It did clarify the basis for the selection of these websites in the first place.

Though millions of pornographic websites can be accessed on the web, top officials said two criteria were examined to impose the selective ban: Sites that were tracked by Cert-in and those that featured child pornography.

Communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad held a review meeting with IT secretary RS Sharma, additional solicitor general Pinky Anand and other officials, after which the department of telecommunications issued a directive to ISPs not to block websites that did not contain child pornography.

“We are not a control freak government and strongly object to the word Talibanisation,” Prasad had said on Monday after criticism mounted over the government’s handling of the issue in a manner that impinged on the right of citizens to view adult entertainment material in the privacy of their homes.

Sources in the communications ministry said the possibility of setting up an ombudsman to deal with the issue is still open.

While the government is responsible for matters of national importance, on issues such as pornography, the courts which are already hearing cases could examine the possibility of setting up an ombudsman-like institution, an official said.

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