Why a ban on porn sites is futile

It speaks of a nation moving backwards; immature and proud of it. It is a dangerous state to be in.


Jahanzaib Haque February 12, 2012

There are three big problems with banning and blocking pornographic websites in Pakistan, ranging from the most basic — it does not work — to the more troubling ‘saying yes to banning porn is saying yes to state oppression’, to the most deeply worrying ‘our national identity seems to be one of a imbecile out to harm himself’.

Let’s address the most basic problem first. The reason why a ban on porn can never work is because of a simple economic principle — where there is demand, there will be supply, and the demand is going nowhere. Those who want to see porn online will do so. Their options are unlimited. For every 13,000 porn sites the Pakistan government blocks, there are over 327 million other pages to browse as porn accounts for 12 per cent of all online visits and 35 per cent of all downloads worldwide. If the PTA somehow convinced our local ISPs to block all 327 million pages of porn, the filtering system would strangle all internet in Pakistan, not to mention, by the time such action was taken, there would probably be a million new porn sites out there. Let’s also not forget that proxy servers (sites that change your IP to different locations) make all 13,000 blocked sites available. How easy is it to use a proxy? About a single Google search or browser extension away, rendering the whole blocking exercise (not to mention its cost) redundant. It is unfortunate that our esteemed judiciary and government servants are so technologically challenged that they probably cannot understand this basic problem even if it is written for them on paper.

Next is the more troubling ‘saying yes to banning porn is saying yes to state oppression’. Banning porn is a slippery slope to say the least. This government is already known to block websites in the name of such open ended phrases as ‘national interest’ so do we really want to give them allowance to censor us further with the (mis)use of the words ‘obscenity’ and ‘pornography’? Who gets to define what is obscene and what is pornography? Is Titian’s Venus of Urbino pornography? And if so, should we block Wikipedia and ban all import of Encarta Encyclopedia CDs, as that is where I first saw this masterpiece at age 14? What is obscene? Is Sex and the City obscene? It may be to our rabid mullah folk, and since they have the upper hand in this country devastated by politicized religion, can we expect a ban on YouTube in any number of very real dystopian future scenarios? Most certainly, such oppression is just a step away from banning porn.

This brings us to the most worrying and saddening aspect of the decision to block porn — that of the floundering, decaying, most pathetic creature that has become our national identity. What does this attempt to ban and block porn say about us? Does it suggest that we are stupid and ignorant? Does it suggest that we are infantile, delusional and very naïve; given that we do not even see that the issue is not the availability of porn online, but the demand that exists for it? Yes, it does. Does it suggest that we are unabashedly willing to stab ourselves in the foot again and again?

It seems that way, given that we have not learnt anything about how our government and courts may ban anything unannounced, indefinitely, from Baloch news sites to Rolling Stone magazine to SMSs about finger food and athletes foot. This to me is the most tragic aspect of the ongoing ban and blockage of porn: the fact that is speaks of a nation that is moving backwards; immature and proud of it to boot. It is a dangerous state to be in, and one any sane person should fight against.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2012.

COMMENTS (104)

Saad | 9 years ago | Reply

The argument that banning website would somehow slow down the internet is one of the most absurd statements that can be made. Each internet website lookup nowadays goes through goodness know how many transition and redirects to different servers. All these are of course, similar to a lookup of a website on a DNS list. Only an illiterate with no knowledge of internet working could say something like that.You probably wouldn't even notice the delay.

Evidence of this is the implementation of similar systems in a number of other countries (without any adverse affects on society, I might add.... in fact most of them are doing much better than we are, even without pornography).

Having said that, it is true that proxying is pretty easy but that's not the point. Locks are meant to keep unwilling thieves out. A dacoit doesn't care about locks (as most Karachiites can attest to). A pervert will remain a pervert (and yes !! the urge to watch others fornicate does make one a pervert) and will surely find a way no matter how secure the defenses.

The effectiveness of this is more towards those that are lured into pornography and not those who are actively searching for pornography. Although, I'm sure our government will find a way to screw everything up in the implementation.

aatif ehsan | 9 years ago | Reply

It seems that there is no need to draft an ethical code in a civilized society....lets pose a simple but serious question...Are there merits of pornography or it leads to the decline of ethical fabric of society? We should define good and bad from the the consequences of actions...and porn movies are no healthy entertainment_an agreed fact....Please consider it as a counter narrative!

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