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Govt blocked more than 16,000 websites between 2018-2020, but figures show inconsistency. Again.

The Indian government issued directions to ban as many as 16,283 “website/webpages/accounts” between 2018 and 2020, Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad revealed in Lok Sabha on Wednesday. However, there appears to be an inconsistency in the number of websites blocked, as the figures don’t match with what the IT Ministry had provided in 2020. This is not the first time that the ministry has provided confusing numbers.

Here’s a breakdown of the websites/webpages/accounts the Ministry blocked in each of the last three years:

  • 2018: 2,799
  • 2019: 3,635
  • 2020: 9,849

Now, contrast that with the figures the government had provided in September 2020 for the number of “webpages/URLs/Accounts” it had blocked in 2018 and 2019:

  • 2018: 2,799
  • 2019: 3,655

These orders were issued under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

As is clear, the government claimed that it blocked 3,655 websites in 2019 as per a Parliamentary answer given in September 2020, but that number reduced to 3,635 in the answer provided by the government on Wednesday. One reason for the difference could be that in the September 2020 Parliamentary response, the government had provided numbers for blocked “webpages/URLs/Accounts”, whereas in the latest response it provided figures for blocked “website/webpages/accounts”. However, it is unclear whether there is any difference between the two classifications.

It also appears that the government is giving numbers only for blocked social media URLs, since the most recent numbers are consistent with an answer the IT Ministry provided to Parliament back in March 2020. In that case, the government gave out the exact same numbers when asked about the number of blocked social media links.

MEITY submitted confusing numbers in the past

In December 2018, the ministry told the Lok Sabha that it had blocked 2,388 social media URLs that year, and 1,329 in 2017. The question was answered on December 12, 2018, but the figures for that year were up to December 31, 2018, indicating perhaps that MEITY could predict the future. If the present number for 2018 — 2,799 — is to be believed, as many as 411 social media URLs were blocked in a matter of just 19 days between December 12 and 31 of 2018.

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Even the latest 2017 number does match with the ministry’s figures provided in in December 2018. At that time, the ministry had said that 1,329 social media URLs were blocked in 2017, but now it says the number is 1,385 — an increase of 56.

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