Centre for Internet & Society

With the union government's ban on 857 porn sites in July creating brouhaha across the country, there had been a concern over the voice of the youth being stifled and censorship making a comeback.

The article by Harjeet Inder Singh Sahi was published in the Hindustan Times on September 3, 2015.

Even though there was a partial rollback of the ban, the government still seems intent on being obtrusive with information and deny access to it, especially about the internet and the way it intends to govern it.

This has been illustrated by the union government's department of telecommunications refusing to provide information on websites it has banned to a petition under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The reply

"The group coordinator, cyber law division, department of electronics and information technology, has been authorised as designated officer and issues instructions for blocking/unblocking of websites/URLs. The clause 16 of Information Technology Procedure and Safeguards for blocking access of information by Public, Rules 2009, says strict confidentiality shall be maintained regarding all requests and complaints received and actions taken thereof," says the reply to the RTI application filed by this correspondent on August 3.

The reply to the petition - filed at www.rtionline.gov.in with registration number DOTEL/R/2015/61348 - was received on August 27.

Background to the case

In July this year, the department of electronics and information technology had banned 857 pornographic websites listed in the petition of Indore-based advocate Kamlesh Vaswani in the supreme court. The websites were banned by citing 'morality' and 'decency' enshrined in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India and under provisions of the Information Technology Act, 2000. A few days later, the government did a flip-flop and revoked the ban partially.

The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) had subsequently released the list online. Now, the government has refused to provide information on websites banned in the country.

Department tangle

The department of electronics and IT decided on the ban, but it was the department of telecom which served the order to the internet companies because it is the supervising authority for them. The RTI can be filed with the department of telecom as it issues guidelines for and notices to internet service providers. The same application could also have been filed with the department of electronics and information technology. This department might have replied to the application or forwarded it to the telecom department.