IT Ministry blocked 36.8K URLs between Jan 2018, Oct 2023: Govt tells Parliament
With 13,660 URLs blocked, X, formerly Twitter, saw the maximum number of URLs blocked in this 70-month period
Between January 2018 and October 2023, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology blocked 36,838 Uniform Resource Locator (URLs) under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, minister of state Rajeev Chandrasekhar informed the Rajya Sabha on Friday in a written response into CPI(M)’s John Brittas.
With 13,660 URLs blocked, X, formerly Twitter, saw the maximum number of URLs blocked in this 70-month period. While X saw a steady and continuous increase in the number of URLs blocked, other social media platforms --- Facebook, Instagram and YouTube --- did not have a clear trend.
In 2018, MeitY blocked 2,799 URLs while 7,502 URLs were blocked until October this year. At 9,849, maximum number of URLs were blocked in 2020.
Under Section 69A of the IT Act, the designated officer, on approval by the IT Secretary and at the recommendation of the 69A blocking committee, can issue blocking orders to any intermediary or a government agency for six reasons --- sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order, public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence.
Under the Section 69A Blocking Rules 2009, “strict confidentiality” must be maintained about all the blocking requests received by different ministries, agencies, and state government, and actions taken thereof.
Discrepancy in data
On Friday, MeitY reported that 6,118 URLs were blocked in 2021. However, in an RTI response to SFLC.in in June 2022, the ministry said that 6,096 URLs were blocked. Similarly, on Friday, the ministry said that 6,935 URLs were blocked in 2022 but in two separate responses in Lok Sabha on August 2, 2023, MeitY said that 6,775 URLs were blocked in 2022.
This is not the first time such a discrepancy has occurred. In March 2020, the IT ministry told the Lok Sabha that 3,635 URLs were blocked in 2019. Six months later, that number changed to 3,655.
In 2018, the IT ministry informed the Lok Sabha that 1,329 URLs were blocked in 2017. In 2019, it said 1,385 URLs had been blocked in 2017. Even more confusingly, the same ministry said in December 2018 that it had blocked 2,388 URLs that year until December 31 – even though the answer was given on December 12.
Scale of blocking hard to gauge
It is not clear if the list of URLs given includes blocking orders issued against apps. This data also does not include blocking orders issued by judicial courts which could be for any legal reason including defamation, copyright infringement, etc.
This list of number of URLs does not demonstrate the scale of and extent of blocking. For instance, blocking www.twitter.com and blocking www.twitter.com/httweets would count as blocking two URLs, but the quantum of information blocked is significantly different. Similarly, issuing a blocking order against one article on a news website is very different from blocking the entire news website, but both would be counted equally in the list of URLs.
It also does not include blocking orders from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting which was empowered by the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, to issue blocking orders to online publishers of news and current affairs content, and online publishers of online curated content (that is, streaming platforms). In the last few years, the MIB has issued blocking orders against multiple YouTube channels.
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