On Monday, 5th April 2014, the Supreme Court of India heard a Writ petition filed by an Indore-based lawyer Kamlesh Vaswani seeking to ban access to pornographic content on the internet.
In his petition, Mr. Vaswani speaks at tremendous length about the harmful effects of internet porn. He argues that the internet allows access to extremely graphic, violent and brutal forms of pornography that in turn lead to the commission of crimes against women and children. Through social conditioning, pornography fosters discrimination, and the porn industry in its quest for commercial success promotes gender and racial stereotypes while brazenly celebrating vicious and fundamentally immoral acts of misogyny, misanthropy and racism. Several other arguments and statistics are offered in demonstration of the negative impacts of pornography on contemporary society, all of which go towards showing that it is an immediate threat that needs to be wiped out once and for all. Mr. Vaswani feels that Indian law as it currently stands does not adequately address the issue of pornography, mainly due to the following reasons:
- There exists no clear-cut definition of the term 'pornography' in any Indian Statute
- Watching pornographic videos is not treated as an offence - only its production and distribution are penalized
- The Information Technology Act is primarily meant to promote e-commerce and e-governance, and is hence inefficient in tackling internet porn
- The Information Technology Act provides immunity from liability to intermediaries against user-uploaded content (including pornographic content), though intermediaries such as Internet Service Providers could easily check the presence of such content on-line
- A writ of declaration be issued declaring Sections 66, 67, 69, 71, 72, 75, 79, 80 and 85 of the Act as ultra vires of the Constitution of India
- An order or direction in form of an appropriate writ to the respondents to formulate a National Policy and draft an action Plan on the issue of pornography
- A direction be issued to the respondents to prepare a separate law on pornography exhaustively to curb the growing problem of pornography
- A direction be issued to the respondents to treat watching of porn videos and sharing as non-bailable and cognizable offences
The Additional Solicitor General appearing on behalf of the Government of India argued that a blanket-ban on all internet porn as envisaged by the petitioner would be impractical in view of the sheer amount of data being uploaded on a daily basis. It was also argued that such a blanket-ban would be tantamount to violating the rights to free speech and privacy (Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution respectively) since proactive blocking of objectionable content would require ISPs to sift through all content on the internet, including private user-data. Instead, the ASG suggested installation of filtering-software on all computers, though the logistics of such an undertaking still requires considerable discussion.
The petition has now been directed to be listed after two weeks