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844 social media pages blocked from Jan-Nov ’15 under Section 69A

censorship

We missed this earlier.

The government blocked 844 social media pages from January to November 2015, reports NDTV. Out of 844, 492 web pages were blocked under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

In comparison, the government blocked 10 URLs in 2014, 13 in 2013 and 136 in 2012 social media websites. In addition, 352 URLs were blocked in compliance with court orders in India till 30th November, 2015. Courts had ordered blocks on 533 URLs in 2013 and 432 in 2014. Total number of blocked social media links stood at 352.

Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000 lets the government block online public access information in the interest of sovereignty, integrity and security of India, friendly relations with foreign states, public order and preventing incitement of cognisable offences related to above. Failing to comply with the directions of the Act leads to imprisonment for up to 7 years, along with a fine.

It’s worth noting that the government treats anti-religious content the same way it would treat content falling in any of the above categories.

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(Also read: Is India’s website-blocking law constitutional?)

Section 66A arrests:
In related news, the Indian Express reports that the maximum cases filed under Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 came from Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. The section, which was struck down as unconstitutional in March 2015 by the Supreme Court, was used by the police to book people who sent “offensive” messages through computers or mobile devices and tablets.

Likewise, in 2014, 2,423 people were arrested, out of which 1,125 charge-sheeted and 42 convicted under Section 66A of the IT Act. However, Section 66A was applied 4,192 times in the country, out of which 898 cases were registered in UP (where 210 individuals were chargesheeted), 603 in Karnataka, 377 in Assam, 375 in Maharashtra and 352 in Telangana.

Check out a list of Section 66A in India over the years, incidents of Thane cops using it after it was dead, the revival of the section and arrests made on the basis of content on Facebook.

The IE report cites Communications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad as saying, “Most networking sites and their servers are located abroad. In most cases, such accounts were successfully disabled in association with social networking sites having their offices in India. However, the success rate is low in disabling accounts and getting information from social networking sites having offices abroad.”

Facebook blocks: Last month, we reported that content restrictions by Facebook in India saw a huge surge after the government placed restrictions on 15,155 pieces of content in the first half of 2015 compared to 5,832 pieces in the second half of 2014, an increase of 159.86%. Alternatively, the number of daily active Indian users on Facebook is also on the rise, its own issues notwithstanding.

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Medianama’s take: We’ve said this before: Sections 66A, 79 and 69 shut out counterpoints and dissent in the country. It seems that the government is using Section 69A to replace Section 66A in order to block content it thinks is unfavourable. Given the lack of specific guidelines, law enforcement and security agencies have to review things on a case by case basis, which further muddies the water. The newly standardised HTTP Code 451 might help in providing context to legally blocked content.

Also read:

Rajasthan blocks Internet services in some districts indefinitely

Gujarat Internet ban

– CIS’ SECTION 66A: DELETE

“If a law requires a person to be careful, it is not violative of free speech”

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Image Credit: Carolyn Tiry

Written By

I'm a MediaNama alumna from 2015-16 (remember TinyOwl?) now back to cover e-services like food and grocery delivery, app based transport and policies, platforms and media in India.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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