“Our Section 69A activity of blocking, which is where MEITY’s, and I am personally, as the chairman of the committee involved in the game, requests for blocking increased significantly during the lockdown to the extent that [earlier] we were doing, on an average, a meeting in 10 days, we are now doing a meeting almost every second day,” Rakesh Maheswhari, Senior Director and Group Coordinator, Cyber Law and e-Security at the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) said during an online event organised by UN Women on “Cyber Crime Trends and Digital Safety amidst COVID-19 Pandemic”. Most of this activity is related to misinformation about COVID-19.

Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, empowers the central government, or any of its authorised officer, to direct an intermediary to block public access to information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource.

Maheshwari revealed that TikTok has been removing on average about 1,500 videos per day. It is not clear if this is in response to Section 69A orders or as per the platform’s content policy. We have reached out to TikTok for clarification. “Unfortunately, the way the whole social media works, that almost any message or video which created on any one social media platform, also gets circulated on all of them, almost simultaneously. And that is what becomes a challenge, particularly when it goes to an end-to-end encrypted platforms like WhatsApp,” Maheshwari said. This is because a Section 69A order is issued on the basis of content, and on an end-to-end encrypted platform, except for the devices of the sender and recipient(s), no one has access to the content.

Despite that, he revealed that WhatsApp has taken down 2,200 accounts for “abnormal behaviour” because WhatsApp removes accounts on an automated basis on the basis of suspicious activity such as bulk messaging, using phone numbers in a series, etc. He said that it was on the government’s request that WhatsApp reduced its forwarding limit to one person/chat at a time. “Our past experience was when we had earlier limited it to 5, the number of forwards actually reduces significantly, and the same trend, we have been told has been observed this time as well,” he said. In a press release sent to MediaNama yesterday, WhatsApp said, “Globally there has been a 70% reduction in the number of highly forwarded messages sent on WhatsApp” since the forwarding limit was reduced to one.