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Sec 69A blocks increased by 270% in 2020, 9,849 accounts/URLs blocked by govt

The government revealed on Wednesday in Parliament that it has blocked 9,849 websites and social media accounts in 2020 under Section 69A of the IT Act. “Wherever the situation warrants, under the provision of section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, Government blocks unlawful and malicious online content, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above.

“Under this provision, 1385, 2799, 3603 and 9849 URLs/accounts/webpages were blocked during the years 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 respectively,” the government said in response to a Lok Sabha question by BJP MPs Mitesh Rameshbhai Patel and Shardaben Anilbhai Patel.

This represents an over 270% increase in blocked URLs in a single year from government orders. This information comes shortly after the government notified Intermediary Rules that require social media companies to be more proactive in deleting content upon government request, and prescribes self-regulatory mechanisms to this end. That might mean that, regardless of how the number of blocked URLs changes in 2021, the actual extent of censorship at the behest of the state may be much more significant.

In March last year, the government disclosed slightly different numbers, repeating a curious pattern of slightly shifting statistics for website blocking. It’s not clear why this has been happening — in 2020, the government said the number of blocked URLs in 2019 was 3,635, but now that number has reduced to 3,603.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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