Centre for Internet & Society

International partnerships, including with the global police network Interpol, could be the basis for India's strategy to counter child pornography after the government's move to ban websites peddling smut backfired last month.

The article by Surabhi Agarwal was published in the Economic Times on September 3, 2015. Sunil Abraham was quoted.

The new approach by the ministry of communications and information technology mirrors the system adopted by developed countries, government officials said, representing a targetted attack on child pornography instead of the recent fiasco when the authorities backtracked in the face of protests after banning 857 websites.

Once it comes on board as a partner, the International Criminal Police Organization will alert India about production, distribution or broadcast of child pornographic content regularly. India will also have access to an Interpol database known as the 'worst of ' list of domains with content containing child sexual abuse.

"The country is not divided on the issue of child pornography and the government has made a policy statement that it will deal with the problem firmly. So that will be guiding the entire action," a senior government official said. The person said that the government is still studying the model and a call will be taken soon.

A partnership with the UK-based Internet Watch Foundation, which maintains a database on child pornography and collaborates with the British government, is also being considered.

Interpol manages a database which uses sophisticated image comparison software to make connections between victims and places. The foundation also maintains a similar database which is constantly updated. It sends alerts to members twice each day.

"That's the global best practice," said Sunil Abraham, executive director of Bangalore based advocacy group Centre for Internet and Society. "There is no reason for us to reinvent anything; we should just adopt the best practice with some improvements." For a long time, the government and Internet service providers have been passing the buck to each other on this issue, arguing that they don't have the wherewithal to create a database on such content and block it. "This is because as per the Indian laws, anyone who looks at such content even with the motive of blocking it is committing a punishable offense," said Abraham. In August the government said it was banning 857 pornographic websites, only to backtrack amidst widespread criticism and a rap from the Supreme Court. Almost all the websites have been unblocked now with the exception of a few which allegedly contain child pornographic content.

During the hearing in the Supreme Court, the Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) said that it is impossible for an ISP to block pornographic sites without orders from the court or department of telecom and that the task of identifying such websites should not be the domain of internet service providers. A decision on the issue will work in the government's favour since the next hearing in the matter is slated for October. "Once the country has access to some list which is authentic and verified, regular action can be taken," a government official said.

As per initial discussions, the dominant point of view is for ISPAI to be the point of contact between the government and international organisations. It will be tasked with vetting the list and receiving blocking orders from the telecom department so that further action can be taken.