Pornography filters in India have little impact

By , IDG News Service |  Internet

Search engines and other Web sites in India are required by law to filter pornographic content. But the opportunity for circumvention is so large, and government interest in prosecution so low, that the country is better off doing away with the laws, analysts said.

"It is impractical to monitor pornography on the net," said Vijay Mukhi, a cyber law consultant in Mumbai. "Rather than try to control all of pornography on the Internet, the government would be better off focusing on the more serious issue of child pornography," he added.

Section 67 of India's Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008, penalizes "whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form" any material "which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest," or "contains (a) sexually explicit act or conduct."

Viewing of online pornography, other than child pornography, is however not an offence in India, said Pavan Duggal, a cyber law consultant and advocate in India's Supreme Court.

The amendment Act modified certain provisions in the Information Technology Act of 2000. It removed, for example, the liability of intermediaries, including search engines, for third-party content, under certain conditions.

But there are still sufficient grounds for any search engine to be penalized for providing access to sexually explicit content, Duggal said. The due diligence required by them under the Act requires them to ensure that contraventions under the Act do not happen, he added.

In India, Microsoft's search engine Bing blocks out pornographic content for local users. If the user types in terms like "sex", "xxx" or "porn" for a Web site, video or image, the search engine blocks the search with the message "Your country or region requires a strict Bing SafeSearch setting, which filters out results that might return adult content."

"Our products, including Bing, choose to comply with social norms and country specific laws governing adult content in the countries we operate in," a Microsoft India spokeswoman said in an e-mail. As such in this case, Microsoft abides by the provisions of the Indian IT Act, she added.

However a Net-savvy user has only to change the country on the menu at the right hand corner of the Bing screen to the U.S. or many other countries, and he has access to unfiltered pornographic content.

"By not allowing people of India to access content that is illegal, these measures could qualify as due diligence under the IT Act," Duggal said. If the user deliberately circumvents and enters his country as the U.S., it is not the fault of the search engine, he added.

Yahoo has also blocked out adult content for several years. Users in India on its local site cannot change their settings to other than safe search.

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