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India bans more than 800 sites seen as 'immoral, indecent'

While some see it as an attempt to promote decency, others see the move as curtailing freedom of expression. 

NEW DELHI: India has banned 857 sites, alleging them to be immoral and indecent, with many of the sites deemed as pornographic. While some see the move as an attempt to promote decency, others see it as curtailing freedom of expression.

When users in India visit such sites, all they will see is a white space. There is no message from the Internet Service Provider (ISP) that the site has been blocked under orders from the Indian government. 

"While the intention of the government is very, very noble, the government wants to ensure that the standards of decency and morality in India must be maintained,” said cyber law expert Pavan Duggal. “The government wants to protect innocent Indians' minds from being exposed to content, which is likely to corrupt their minds when they view such content."

No warning had been given for blocking the sites, but the move appears to have come after the government told the Supreme Court last month that it would impose measures to block pornographic sites, particularly those dealing with child pornography.

"Pornography is not illegal in the country. So I am quite surprised by this move from the government, especially since Chief Justice of the Supreme Court had said a few days that they can't really restrict people from watching things in their own personal and private space,” said activist and founder of medianama.com Nikhil Pahwa.

He added: “So I think it is a civil liberty issue, this attempt at being overtly moralistic, by deciding what is moral and what is immoral in that sense. And in that sense, why is the executive taking over the role of judiciary?"

The Indian Information Technology Act does not make it illegal to view adult porn, but watching child pornography has been a legal offence since 2008. However, many agree that blocking a few hundred sites is a futile exercise because there are tens of thousands of pornographic sites.

It is also easy to access the blocked sites through other means like proxy servers.

Strangely, in the list of sites that have been blocked, there are sites that just have adult humour or memes. However, the government thinks that they violate morality and decency. The parameters of morality and decency are not specified.

The Department of Electronics and Information Technology also said that it plans to put in place an ombudsman to look into cyber content-related issues.