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Government blocking of URLs falls by 50 percent in 2021 with 6,096 instances, MeitY reveals

Section 69A orders to block web pages have continued to climb since 2015, until the shift reported this year.

As many as 6,096 websites or URLs were blocked by the Indian government in 2021, according to a response filed by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) during the ongoing budget session in the Lok Sabha. The question was posed by Lok Sabha Members of Parliament (MP) Kotha Prabhakar Reddy, Manne Srinivas Reddy, and Manickam Tagore B.

The response revealed that the total number of blocked URLs since 2015 stood at 20,14,471. MeitY did not specify why these URLs had been blocked by the ministry.

A quick glance at the table reveals that the number of URLs has gone down significantly (over 50 percent) from 2020 which saw a 270 percent increase from 2019. The numbers are helpful in understanding the actual extent of censorship carried out at the behest of the State.

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Why does the government block URLs?

The government explained that it was issuing these orders under section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. It laid down the following as reasons owing to which it can block URLs:

  • Information impacting sovereignty and integrity of India
  • Defence of India
  • Security of the State
  • Friendly relations with foreign states
  • Public order
  • Preventing incitement

Indian government is not happy with Big Tech

A recent meeting with officials from several big tech companies revealed that the Indian government is not happy with the international criticism over its content takedown orders. The government has been engaged in “heated discussions” with Google, Twitter, and Facebook for not acting on fake news on their platforms, as per a report in Reuters.

Officials from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) reportedly conveyed, to these companies, that their inaction on fake news compelled the state to order content takedowns, which in turn drew international criticism that authorities were suppressing free expression, the report explained.

The meeting was in response to MIB's use of “emergency powers” in December to block channels on YouTube and other social media platforms, Reuters reported.

The ministry blocked 20 YouTube channels and two news websites using emergency provisions available under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. The government can order the complete banning of certain online content under Rule 16 of the IT Rules, without giving the intermediary or publishers of such content a chance to be heard.

The MIB said that these channels and websites formed a “coordinated disinformation network operating from Pakistan” which was “spreading fake news about various sensitive subjects related to India.”

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I cover several beats such as Crypto, Telecom, and OTT at MediaNama. I can be found loitering at my local theatre when I am off work consuming movies by the dozen.

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