watching porn clips or movie is not an offense. All that the law forbids is its publication or transmission. If the railway police in Mumbai terrorised an IIT student, just by claiming that his mobile phone stored pornographic video, they rode roughshod over his human rights.
For, even if his phone had contained porn clips, the police would have had no leverage to extort money from the student. Consumption of pornography on a personal device is frowned upon by neither the Victorian-vintage Indian Penal Code ( IPC) nor the 21st Century legislation on Information Technology (IT). Both laws, separated by over 130 years, are unsparing towards the producer or supplier of obscene material.
But when it comes to the consumer, neither law offers any scope to the police to make out even the lesser charge of abetting the alleged crime of obscenity. It is just as well that the laws are not prudish about consumption per se because mobiles have lately emerged as a major medium for pornography around the world, thanks to advances made by smart phone and 3G technologies.
Mobiles can now match the capability of laptops in showing long videos of pornography, with the added advantage of offering greater privacy. The IT Act does however make the end user liable if it can be shown that he had more than just consumed pornography. The consumer would fall foul of the IT Act if he had shared the video with others.
The three provisions relating to pornography forbid not just publishing but also transmitting. Section 67 of the IT Act imposes a penalty of imprisonment up to three years for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form. Section 67A prescribes imprisonment up to five years for the same offence if the material in question contains "sexually explicit act or conduct". The penalty under Section 67B too goes up to five years as this provision deals with the aggravated offence of child pornography.
The consumer would be vulnerable to one or the other of these pornography-related provisions even if he had shared the video only within his circle of friends. The very act of transmitting constitutes the offence. Thus, the consumer is safe so long as he is content receiving or downloading pornographic material.
Besides shunning the temptation of sharing salacious videos, the consumer should be wary of misusing his mobile to invade somebody's privacy. Section 66E, one of the amendments made to the IT Act in 2008, introduced punishment up to three years for whoever "intentionally or knowingly captures, publishes or transmits the image of a private area of any person without his or her consent, under circumstances violating the privacy of that person."
The rules notified under the IT Act last month make it clear that pornography can be safely consumed from one's home or from one's personal devices. But cyber cafes are required to block pornographic sites, evidently because of the danger of children gaining access to them.