The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has once again invoked emergency powers under the Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2021 to block online content. “Apps, website, and social media accounts of foreign-based “Punjab Politics TV” having close links with Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), an organization that has been declared unlawful under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967” were blocked through a MIB order on February 18, according to a press release.
The decision was taken on the basis of intelligence inputs that the entity was attempting to disrupt public order before the State assembly elections and hosted content that promoted separatism, communal disharmony, etc., the press release said.
Emergency provisions under Rules 6 allow the government to order a complete ban on certain online content, without giving the intermediaries or publishers of such content a chance to be heard. The IT Rules have been widely criticised by social media intermediaries, news media organisations, and civil society for increasing government control over online content.
What other content has been blocked?
Besides the apps and website of Punjab Politics, the press release also provided screenshots of their YouTube and Instagram accounts as blocked. Punjab Politics TV has 434 subscribers on YouTube, and it goes by the username ‘PoliticspunjabTV’ on Instagram. At the time of publishing this report, MediaNama could not access both of these accounts.
Emergency provisions of the IT Rules
The emergency provisions of the rules have been invoked before to block:
- 20 YouTube channels and two news websites in December 2021;
- 35 YouTube news channels, two news websites, twitter accounts, Instagram accounts and one Facebook account in January 2022. All of these were allegedly part of a ‘coordinated disinformation campaign from Pakistan’.
Here are the steps that need to be followed by the ministry:
- An authorised officer, appointed by the MIB, can submit a recommendation to the MIB Secretary for the immediate blocking of certain content in cases of public emergency under Rule 16 of the IT Rules. The rule states that the grounds for such blocking are laid in Section 69 of the IT Act, which lays out interest of the sovereignty, defence, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above, or investigation of any offence as grounds.
- If the MIB Secretary is satisfied with the necessity of such blocking, they can issue a direction to the publishers or an intermediary as an interim measure, recording the reasons for it in writing.
- Within 48 hours, the issue will be bought for consideration and recommendation before the Inter-Departmental Committee whose decision will prevail.
- In case the IDC decides against the blocking, the MIB Secretary will revoke their order.
Update: The story was updated at 7PM, February 22 to add the details of the MIB’s January 2021 order under the emergency provisions
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