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Section 69 (A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000

Context:

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) recently issued orders to block 138 online betting platforms and 94 money lending apps on an “urgent” and “emergency” basis under Section 69(A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Relevance:

GS III- Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the IT Act?
  2. Section 69 of the IT Act
  3. What is the Reason for Intermediaries to Show Compliance to IT Act?

Dangers Posed by Lending Apps

  • Extortion and Harassment: Over the past three years, there have been multiple police complaints of people being extorted and harassed by money-lending apps after borrowing small amounts of money at exorbitant interest rates.
  • Suicides: There have been instances where people have taken their own lives after facing harassment from lending apps. For example, in December 2020, a native of Visakhapatnam died by suicide after facing harassment from such apps.
  • Increase in Complaints: The number of complaints received by the Cyber Police Station in Pune regarding loan app crimes has been increasing. In 2020, there were 699 complaints and in 2021, the number increased to 928. By August 2022, 3,151 complaints had been filed.
  • Hidden Apps: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) started investigating Chinese loan-lending apps and found out that while only 94 are available on e-stores, others are operating through third-party links or websites.

What is the IT Act?

  • The year 2000 saw the rise of IT Bill which it received assent of President and hence came to be the Information Technology (IT) act in which Cyber laws are contained.
  • The Aim of the Act was to provide legal infrastructure for e-commerce in India.
  • The Information Technology Act, 2000 also aims to provide for the legal framework so that legal sanctity is accorded to all electronic records and other activities carried out by electronic means. The Act states that unless otherwise agreed, an acceptance of contract may be expressed by electronic means of communication and the same shall have legal validity and enforceability.
  • In India, the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, as amended from time to time, governs all activities related to the use of computer resources.
  • It covers all ‘intermediaries’ who play a role in the use of computer resources and electronic records.
  • The role of the intermediaries has been spelt out in separate rules framed for the purpose in 2011- The Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011.
Amendment to the IT Act
  • The Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 – An act to amend the IT Act 2000 received the assent of the President on 5th February 2009.
It dealt with various changes such as:
  • Data Protection –with no specific reference to Data Protection in 2000 Act, the ITA 2008 introduced two sections addressing Data Protection, Section 43A (Compensation for failure to protect data), and Section 72A (Punishment for disclosure of information in breach of lawful contract.
  • Information Preservation – Section 67C refers to the Preservation and Retention of Information by Intermediaries. According to Central Government, any intermediary who intentionally or knowingly contravenes the provisions shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years and shall not be liable to fine.
  • Section 69 gives power to issue directions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer source.
    • Section 69B authorizes to monitor and collect traffic data or information through any computer resource for Cyber security.

Section 69 of the IT Act

  • It confers on the Central and State governments the power to issue directions “to intercept, monitor or decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource”.

The grounds on which these powers may be exercised are:

  • In the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, the security of the state.
  • Friendly relations with foreign states.
  • Public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to these.
  • For investigating any offence.

Procedure for Blocking Apps

  • Powers to Block: The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has been given the power to block access to information, similar to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, since 2009.
  • IT Rules: The powers of the MeitY are derived from the IT Act, and the procedure for blocking access to information is explained in the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 or the IT Rules, 2009.
  • Review Committees: The IT Rules include provisions for review committees, fair hearing opportunities, strict confidentiality, and record maintenance by designated officers.
  • Pre-decisional Hearings: However, there have been no recorded instances of the MeitY providing individuals with pre-decisional hearings.

What have the courts said?

Landmark Ruling by Supreme Court:
  • In 2015, the Supreme Court in the case “Shreya Singhal vs Union of India” struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000, which imposed punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services, as it violated Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
Debate over Section 69A:
  • The plea had also challenged Section 69A of the Information Technology Rules 2009, but the Supreme Court upheld it as “constitutionally valid”.
  • In July 2022, Twitter sued the MeitY in the Karnataka High Court over blocking orders that failed to give users a hearing. The Centre argued that Twitter was a foreign corporation and did not have any fundamental rights or legal remedy.
  • Twitter argued that its claims under Articles 14, 19, and 21 were in relation to the rights of citizens who had Twitter accounts.
  • On the most recent hearing, the Centre questioned Twitter’s standing to argue the fundamental rights of account holders and the legal relationship between Twitter and its account holders.

Other Instances of the Government Invoking Section 69A:

  • Ban on 59 Chinese Apps (June 2020): Following rising tensions with China, the MeitY banned 59 apps, including TikTok, Shareit, Shein, and Clash of Kings, among others.
  • Ban on 118 Apps (September 2020): On September 1, 2020, the government banned 118 apps, including the popular gaming app PUBG.
  • Ban on 49 Apps (November 2020): The government banned another 49 apps in November 2020.
  • Recommendation for Ban on 54 Chinese Mobile Applications (February 2022): The MHA recommended a ban on 54 Chinese mobile apps, including the popular game Garena Free Fire, due to concerns over privacy and security. The ban was invoked under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.

-Source: Indian Express


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