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MEITY says Section 69A orders cannot be disclosed, subject to ‘strictly confidentiality’

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The Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology refused to disclose the details of their orders to censor certain Twitter handles and tweets in India earlier this year, in a letter to the Internet Freedom Foundation on April 26.

On February 08, IFF demanded that MEITY make its blocking orders to Twitter public. The response, which came from “Team 69A” at the ministry, argued that under rules notified for the eponymous section of the IT Act, blocking orders are subject to “strict confidentiality”. “The orders passed by the committee cannot be made publically available as strict confidentiality is to be maintained in regards of the actions taken under section 69A,” the government wrote in its response to IFF’s initial letter.

IFF, however, said that this is incorrect, as Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009, only provides confidentiality for complaints.

“[…] your interpretation of Rule 16 […] is misplaced. It is premised on an incorrect understanding of the Rules. The confidentiality requirement of Rule 16 pertains to the complaints received by MeitY on the basis of which it took the action, and does not and cannot be taken to mean that the blocking orders issued by MeitY are also to be kept confidential,” IFF Associate Counsel Rohin Garg wrote in a “Without Prejudice” response, indicating that IFF is keeping open the option of going to court over this issue.

“According to paragraph 115 of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s decision in Shreya Singhal, where the originator is identified, which in the present case is true for many blocked twitter accounts, the originator must be presented an opportunity to be heard before a blocking order is passed. Even in instances of emergency blocking, a post-decisional hearing must be provided,” Garg added. [emphasis his]

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