Why a ban on porn sites is futile

Why a ban on porn sites is futileThere 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. – Thetribune