A total of 1,482 websites or URLs were blocked by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY) from January to March 2022, revealed an RTI query filed by Software Freedom Legal Central (SFLC.in), a legal policy firm. The blocked sites include all types of URLs such as webpages, websites and pages on social media platforms.
These websites were blocked citing Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000. The Section states that any agency of the government or any intermediary can be asked to block the access of information for the public “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to above”.
“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 which mention limited grounds for blocking of access to any information,” said Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director at SFLC.in.
The number of URLs blocked under Section 69A “are 9, 21 , 362 , 62 , 471 , 500 , 633 , 1385 , 2799 , 3635 , 9849 , 6096 and 1482 (till March 2022) during the year 2010 , 2011 , 2012 , 2013 , 2014 , 2015 , 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 , 2020 , 2021 and 2022 (till March 2022 ) respectively,” the RTI accessed by indianexpress.com revealed.
Under Rule 16 of Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information Public ) Rules, 2009, strict confidentiality should be maintained regarding all the requests and complaints received. This means that the government can block any URL without providing any substantial information, in the larger interest of national security.
However, Sugathan believes that “the confidentiality clause in the blocking rules results in all orders and information regarding such blocking remaining out of the purview of the public. Often users, whose content is taken down, are also not informed and this essentially goes against the rationale of the Apex Court in upholding the section and the rules in Shreya Singhal vs Union of India.”