“The state cannot become the moral police. We cannot peek inside. The entire issue needs larger debate. Every computer and mobile phone have the child lock. It is difficult to stop such things at the source level.”

The statement sums up the government’s position after the huge backlash it faced on banning 857 ‘allegedly pornographic’ websites en masse that also included many non-pornographic websites.

Yes, the state and the courts cannot be the moral police as the Supreme Court has observed and as the government was forced to admit in the apex court today.

It is not the way societies in democracies function.

‘The entire issue needs larger debate’ – was rightly said by the government’s representative in the apex court.

There are issues related to this free run of online pornography that we need to be worried about. Banning sites with child pornographic content is absolutely required. But a blanket ban on all pornographic websites is not at all acceptable.

The government needs to regulate and control cyber crimes and violations and the pornographic content that violates any legal framework must be addressed in the framework.

It is true proliferation of online pornography with rapid internet growth in India, especially with ever increasing mobile internet base, is the major contributor behind massive increase in incidents of crime against women and the trend is worrying.

But, a blanket ban is not the way to handle it – because technologically, it is not possible. World Wide Web (www) offers websites a seamless space to function. A country can filter content of its area but it has no hold over other geographies which may not conform to its legal requirements and as internet has no defined geographies, banning related content from across the world is not feasible. Also, no technology can ensure effective identification of all such websites and contents based on a depository of related words and tools. Websites banned will soon crop up with different names. Even China, an authoritarian regime with heavy internet censorship, finds difficult to block web access the way it wants, in spite of its massive surveillance infrastructure. Same holds true for Russia.

Also, putting in place such technological infrastructure requires substantial investments, in tune of billions of US dollars. And what pinches more that even then, we cannot say with certainty, that it will be able to check the menace.

Then what is the solution?

Well, we cannot say – in fact no one can say. What makes this assumption even more vague is the fact that there is no scope of error here if the trial fails – because the consequences will be even more damaging.

One possible way to deal with it partial pricing. The pornographic content may be kept out of the ambit of net neutrality and the service providers can be asked to price the content at a level (for related websites) that it becomes out of reach of the masses.

Also, the websites can be asked to offer only online content with no ‘download’ options, another way to check pornography spread.

Another way to deal with the problem is – the websites can be asked to have a configuration that works only with high end smartphone. Yes, it cannot be applied to all websites, especially those money spinners operating from a remote corner of the world, but keeping pornography out of ‘net neutrality’ ambit would help in tackling that.

It can be made legally mandatory to have child lock buttons in every mobile phone, computer and television set.

All these solutions (and more of the type) can work effectively to keep pornography restricted to a social penetration level that will be largely acceptable. Pornography was always there, before the advent of internet. Internet proliferated its spread. Finding indirect ways to control online pornography traffic has the potential to reduce it to the level that a society in transition like India needs where information access and excess have led to chaos and an order is needed.

Yes, the government cannot ‘peek’ inside – as the attorney general said. Right to privacy has to be sacrosanct in a democracy. The government doesn’t accept that and the Supreme Court is to deliver its decision on this issue tomorrow. Hope, the apex court will, one again, hold up the democratic spirit once again.

But we should also not forget that our fundamental rights remain suspended in case of emergencies and we, as a society, should see the rapid spread of online pornography as an emergency situation while finding the ways to deal with it.

A blanket ban is not any solution but making it difficult to reach to the masses is always viable and advisable in a society like India.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –