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India Cracks Down On Porn

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Dec 5, 2003 12:00 AM PST    Text size: 
BOMBAY, India – City government in Bombay has launched an initiative to crack down on Internet access to porn by making the country's cyber café owners stick to stricter citywide policies. The viewing of pornography is banned in most parts of India.

With the number of cyber cafes on a rapid rise in the country's high tech cities and towns, more than one million people depend on cyber cafes for Internet access, says the USC Annenberg Review.

In an effort to curb unregulated access to the web, police in the city of Bombay are forcing cafe owners to pay yearly licensing fees, use pornography software filters, and check the photo identification cards of cyber café patrons.

Regulations have already been imposed in the city of Calcutta after the official Calcutta police website was hijacked and turned into a porn site.

There is also concern among police and government officials that cyber cafes are breeding grounds for hackers and terrorist activities. So the new regulations will also require that a physical log of cyber patrons be maintained and filled out by the users themselves. The log will be made available to police upon demand.

Additionally, each cyber café owner will be forced to prominently display a placard that states pornography viewing is not allowed.

The rise of cyber café popularity began as early as 1997, says the Annenberg Review, and at its peak, an estimated 5,000 cyber cafes could be found in the city of Bombay alone. There are estimates that about 300,000 cyber cafes exist nationwide.

The advent of cyber cafes has provided ample money making opportunities for many Indian entrepreneurs and has provided wide ranges of people from varying economic backgrounds with access to the Internet. The average revenue from cyber cafes on a monthly basis is around $300, states Annenberg.

But similar to government intervention on Internet access in China, the city government of Bombay is wielding its muscle to put a stop to the free flow of information.

Many cyber café owners are angered by the idea of having their businesses controlled by city and government interests, says Annenberg, and they are banding together through a newly formed action group called the Association of Public Internet Access Providers (APIAP), which so far claims a 200-person membership.

The intention behind APIAP is to "promote and protect the interest of businesses offering Internet access to the public" and to serve as the voice of cyber café owners.

"Our efforts are intended to prevent new and unnecessary costs and burdens upon small business owners, and to promote free enterprise, and to highlight the industry's contribution in bringing Information Technology to the masses," says APIAP's mission statement.

Cyber café regulations are expected to go into effect in the city of Bombay within the next six months. Many café owners worry that in addition to imposing on free speech rights, the regulations could deter many people from using the Internet, and that café owners stand to lose what little revenue they draw in to begin with.

It is also expected that cyber café enforcement in Bombay could set a precedent for other cities in India to pass the same restrictions on Internet usage.

"How could you stop terrorists from using your computers?" a cyber café owner told Annenberg. "And the world's oldest profession was always accessible and you don't even have to invest in a computer. As mentioned earlier, we are open for regulation where it offers opportunities and legitimacies. But unfortunately, the regulations are not working in that direction."

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