According to the Union government, its policies are aimed at ensuring an open, safe, trusted and accountable internet for its users.
A total of 29,154 Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) were directed to be blocked by the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) between 2018 and 2022. These include social media URLs, accounts, channels, apps, webpages, and websites.
Year-wise, a total of 2,799; 3,635; 9,849; 6,096 and 6,775 URLs were directed to be blocked in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 respectively.
The information was shared by Union Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, in Lok Sabha on Wednesday. The minister was responding to the following set of questions asked by Member of Parliament Karti P. Chidambaram:
- The total number of directions issued under Rule 8(6) of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 (IT Rules, 2009) to block access to online content during the last five financial years, including the provisional data for the current year
- The total number of hearings conducted by the committee for examination of requests under Rule 8(1) of the IT Rules, 2009 during the said period
- The total number of blocking orders issued by the MeitY under Rule 9(2) of the IT Rules, 2009 during the said period
- The total number of websites, social media handles and apps blocked under Section 69Aof the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act), during the said period
- Whether any intermediaries have not complied with takedown orders, and if so, the total number of such intermediaries that have been punished under section 69A(3)during the said period
Responding further, the minister said that the blocking directions had been issued under Rule 8(6) and Rule 9(2) of the IT Rules, 2009.
Rule 8(6) provides that the “Designated Officer, on approval of the request by the Secretary, Department of Information Technology, shall direct any agency of the Government or the intermediary to block the offending information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in their computer resource for public access within the time limit specified in the direction.”
The Minister added that the committee constituted under Rule 7 had conducted 18, 40, 70, 39 and 53 meetings for hearing and examination of the blocking requests in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 respectively.
Rule 7 allows the committee to examine the request to block content. It says, “The request along with the printed sample content of the alleged offending information or part thereof shall be examined by a committee consisting of the Designated Officer as its chairperson and representatives, not below the rank of joint Secretary in Ministries of Law and Justice, Home Affairs, Information and Broadcasting and the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team appointed under sub-section(1) of section 70B of the [IT] Act.”
Rule 9(2) provides, “In a case of an emergency nature, the Secretary, Department of Information Technology may, if he is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient and justifiable for blocking from public access of any information or part thereof through any computer resource and after recording reasons in writing, as in interim measure issue such directions as he may consider necessary to such identified or identifiable persons or intermediary in control of such computer resource hosting such information or part thereof without giving him any opportunity of hearing.”
Section 69A of the IT Act confers power upon the Union government to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity, defence and 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 these issues.
The minister informed that all the online intermediaries are in compliance with all the directions issued by MeitY under section 69A.
Responding to another set of questions, the minister said the policies of the government are aimed at ensuring an open, safe, trusted and accountable internet for its users.
“With the expansion of the Internet and more and more Indians coming online, the number of Indians exposed to misuse of social media and online news platforms has also grown,” the minister added.
Commenting on the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules 2021), the minister stated that these rules cast a specific obligation on intermediaries vis-à-vis the kind of information that can be hosted, displayed, uploaded, published, transmitted, stored or shared.
“Intermediaries are also required to remove any content violative of any law for the time being in force as and when brought to their knowledge either through a court order or through a notice by appropriate government or its authorised agency. In case of failure to follow diligence as provided in the IT Rules, 2021, by intermediaries, they shall lose their exemption from liability under Section 79 of the IT Act and shall be liable for consequential action as provided in such law,” the minister asserted.
He said that the enhanced due diligence required includes respecting the rights accorded to citizens under the Constitution, including in Articles 14 (equality before law), 19 (protection of rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.) and 21 (protection of life and personal liberty), while discharging their (that is, the intermediaries’) duties.