How the crackdown on porn in India has intensified

There’s still Bollywood and its cousins.
There’s still Bollywood and its cousins.
Image: AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.
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It has become trickier for Indians to keep watching porn.

After the ban on over 800 pornographic websites ordered by the Uttarakhand high court in September last year, many internet users in the country are now also blocked from accessing their mirror sites, or copies of the original website under a slightly altered web address.

For instance, soon after the ban, Pornhub, the world’s biggest porn website, had set up, a mirror website, so that Indians could watch its videos after became inaccessible.

But “roughly a month or two ago,” major internet service providers (ISPs) in the country blocked the mirror site too, Pornhub vice-president Corey Price told Quartz in an email on April 19. Combined with the original ban, this has “drastically affected traffic,” he added.

Flimsy reasons

ISPs in India are not legally required to ban the mirror sites, said Apar Gupta, executive director of Internet Freedom Foundation, a New Delhi-based non-profit. Moreover, they may no longer be bound to even block the original 800 websites since the high court order was an interim one and lapsed after the petition for the ban was dismissed, he added.

The rationale for the latest blocks on mirror sites remains unclear. After an amendment to the Information Technology (IT) Act in 2010, the Indian government without a supporting court ban can no longer order ISPs to ban any website solely on the grounds of obscenity.

“ISPs may be blocking porn websites by themselves as a preventive step to avoid any subsequent litigation which may threaten their licences,” Gupta said.

This could explain the haphazard nature of the new blocks. For instance, Quartz found that while Pornhub’s mirror site is not accessible for Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio customers, it works for customers of Vodafone and ACT Fibernet. But ACT Fibernet users can’t access, the mirror site of XVideos, another popular porn website.

Can’t stop, won’t stop

Still, porn viewers in India can get around the ban. A popular bypass is through free or paid virtual private networks (VPNs), which enables users to access the blocked sites by masking their location. 

Google searches for “vpn” in India boomed right after the ban was enforced in October last year, and have remained higher than usual ever since.

However, Jio appears to have blocked several VPN websites. In such cases, users can still access both porn and VPN websites on Tor, a free and secure web browser. 

Besides, several websites that were not included in the Uttarakhand high court ban continue to remain accessible. But these include “risky porn sites that may contain illegal content,” Price said.

The high court had ordered the ban on the grounds that unlimited access to porn is negatively affecting young adults. But subsequent blocks on the mirror sites without a court order “undermine the ability of internet users to access various websites, not only porn,” Gupta said.