Internet Sex Queries Being Censored in India, Other Countries

DELHI—The world had a good chuckle this week after it was revealed that the 86-year-old governor of a province in India resigned after a sex tape was released that showed him in bed with three young women, but the story veils what’s really going on in a country whose citizens search for “sex” on the internet more than any other people in the world.

Search queries for “sex” are coming back minus the sex. In fact, a recent investigation by the Guardian has uncovered an astonishing amount of censorship by some of the most trafficked portals in the world, including Flickr, Bing and Yahoo!.

“The Yahoo search engine and Flickr photo-sharing site (owned by Yahoo) altered their sites earlier this month to prevent users in India from switching off the safe-search facility. The block also applies to users in Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea,” reports the paper. “Microsoft has also barred Indian users of its Bing search engine from searching for sexual content. Users who do try to search for sexual material receive a notice informing them that ‘your country or region requires a strict Bing SafeSearch setting, which filters out results that might return adult content.’”

The restricted access is apparently the result of changes to India's Information Technology Act of 2000, which bans the publication of pornographic material. That law is based on a 150-year-old statute (section 292 of the Indian penal code) that defines obscenity as "any content that is lascivious and that will appeal to prurient interest or the effect of which is to tend to deprave or corrupt the minds of those who are likely to see, read or hear the same."

“In October,” says the Guardian, “the scope of the 2000 act was widened to enable action to be taken against a wide range of providers, from internet search engines and internet service providers to cyber-cafes. Under the new law, they are obliged to exercise due diligence and disable access to any content which contravenes the act. Failure to do so carries a three-year jail sentence and a fine of up to 500,000 rupees.” That amount converts to $10,744.60.

Such large-scale censorship in a democracy that, like America, is deeply conflicted about its attitudes toward sex should be of profound concern to civil libertarians in the United States who believe it can’t happen here or that the massive internet portals upon which we are all increasingly dependent will ultimately stand up and defend the ability of individuals to freely access the internet.

Despite the fact that Yahoo! is an American corporation, the Flickr website explains that "Flickr is a global community made up of many different kinds of people.

“What's OK in your backyard may not be OK in theirs. Each one of us bears the responsibility of categorizing our own content within this landscape. So, we've introduced some filters to help everyone try to get along.

"If your Yahoo! ID is based in Singapore, Hong Kong, India or Korea you will only be able to view safe content based on your local terms of service (this means you won't be able to turn SafeSearch off)."

What it also means is that, under the right circumstances, Flickr will block our search results in a New York minute, too.