Oct 30, 2018

Can India's new pornography ban actually work?

The Indian Government has reinstated its ban on access to pornographic material online. Rather than blanket ban access to websites that are tagged as "adult" themed (similar to the way filtering services do for parents, discussed more below), the Government has blocked access to 827 specific websites. This is, broadly speaking, the same ban that was implemented in 2015.

The policy reason behind the decision is that pornography "threatens [the] morality and decency of Indians". There was widespread criticism of the ban in 2015, and it lasted less than a week before it was scrapped.

However, the demand for pornography in India is substantial. In 2017 tube-style website PornHub reported that India was the third largest country in terms of traffic to its website. As such, and as it is on the ban-list, it has been unwilling to accept the Government's ban. To avoid it, it has launched a mirror-site using a different domain (not published here) that was not on the banned list.

That is the issue with implementing a ban on specific domains: the hosts can simply "clone" the website on to a different domain, and cause the authorities to spend time constantly monitoring new content to keep up. It is an analogue solution to a digital content.

Adding to the ineffectiveness of the ban is a huge spike in searches for Virtual Private Networks ("VPNs") in India: we discussed the system here. Using a VPN hosted in a third country will allow users to access restricted content through it, making the ban completely ineffective.

PornHub have been something of an innovator when it comes to getting around access restrictions, and have actually launched their own VPN tailor made for accessing pornographic content in jurisdictions that censure it.

The writer can see no way that this ban can possibly be fit for purpose while it is blocking specific domains, rather than using more sophisticated search engine proactive blocking algorithms and targeting particular words in websites' metadata. Fortunately for the pornography consuming public in India, the Government do not seem to be looking at more sophisticated censuring at this time.

If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniel & Co. on 0191 281 4000 or legal@mcdanielslaw.com.


in: Digital/Tech, EU/International

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