The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY) blocked a total of 1,482 websites or URLs between January and March 2022, revealed an RTI query filed by Software Freedom Legal Central (SFLC.in), a legal policy firm.Blocked sites include all kinds of URLs such as web pages, websites, and pages on social media platforms.
These websites were blocked by citing Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act 2000. The Section states that any government agency or any intermediary may be required to block access to information for the public “in interest of sovereignty and integrity. of India, the defense of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or to prevent the incitement to commit any recognizable offenses related to the foregoing”.
“Section 69A of the Information Technology Act has been used time and again by the government to censor content, often in violation of the provisions of the section that mention limited grounds for blocking access to any information,” said Prasanth Sugathan, legal director of SFLC.en.
The number of URLs blocked under Section 69A “are 9, 21, 362, 62, 471, 500, 633, 1385, 2799, 3635, 9849, 6096 and 1482 (as of March 2022) during the year 2010, 2011, 2013 , 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 (until March 2022) respectively”, revealed the RTI accessed by indianexpress.com.
Pursuant to Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Guarantees for Blocking Access to Public Information) Rules 2009, strict confidentiality must be maintained with respect to all requests and complaints received. This means that the government can block any URL without providing any substantial information, in the interest of national security.
However, Sugathan believes that “the confidentiality clause in the blocking rules results in all orders and information regarding such blocking being out of the public eye. Often the users, whose content is removed, are also not informed and this essentially goes against the logic of the High Court in upholding the section and rules in Shreya Singhal vs Union of India.”