BLOCK PARTY

India has lifted its online porn ban—but ISPs are going to keep blocking it anyway

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Blocked.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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Usually a divided country, India came together in its outrage over the latest ban. On Monday, Aug 4, India woke up to discover that the government had blocked 857 pornographic websites.

But unlike neighboring China, where bans are watertight and strictly enforced, India’s porn ban was in shambles from the word go. As many, including Quartz, noted, there are more than 857 pornographic websites on the internet. The ministry of of telecommunications told the Financial Times (paywall) that there were other ways to access the sites, including virtual private networks. Indian internet users mocked the decision and accused the government of heavy-handedness and incompetence. By the following day, the ban had been lifted.

Kind of.

The government, which asks internet service providers to block websites, also asked them to unblock them. However, it included this cryptic line, as reported by the tech and policy website Medianama: “The intermediaries are free not to disable any of the 857 URLs which do not have child pornography.” In addition to being utterly baffling, it also effectively makes it the ISPs’ job to identify and block sites with child pornography.

Understandably, ISPs want no such burden and have chosen instead to just block the lot instead.  In beautiful bureaucratese, the head of the ISP trade association wrote to the telecoms minister complaining that the government’s position put them in an impossible position, reports the Press Trust of India: “We submit that direction given above is very vague and un-implementable, as ISPs have no way or mechanism to filter out child pornographic from URLs and further unlimited sub links of the said URLs in different-different name.”

The ban may have been lifted, but for now, the block remains in place.