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Surge in Website Blocking Orders

Context:

The number of website blocking orders has witnessed an exponential increase, surging over 100 times from 2013 to October 2023, as revealed in response to a Right to Information (RTI) application.

Relevance:

GS III: Cyber Security

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Trends in Website Blocking Orders in India
  2. Government Website Blocking: Reasons and Challenges
  3. Implications of Government Website Blocking

Trends in Website Blocking Orders in India

  • The number of website blocking orders in India has surged from 62 in 2013 to 6,954 by October 2023.
  • These orders are executed under Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000.
  • The escalation aligns with the substantial growth in internet usage, particularly after a significant reduction in mobile data prices in 2016.
Scope and Nature:
  • Most blocked web pages likely pertain to individual posts, videos, or profiles.
  • Immediate tracing of the location of web/application servers is undertaken when non-compliance with laws or court orders is identified.

Legal Framework for Website Blocking:

Information Technology Act, 2000:
  • Governs activities related to computer resource usage in India.
  • Encompasses ‘intermediaries’ involved in computer resource and electronic record utilization.
  • The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology under the IT Act 2000, regulate content and conduct of intermediaries and digital media platforms, leading to the blocking of websites and channels violating rules.
Section 69 of the IT Act:
  • Empowers the Central and State governments to issue directions for intercepting, monitoring, or decrypting information in any computer resource.
  • Grounds for exercising these powers include:
    • Interest in the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, or state security.
    • Maintenance of friendly relations with foreign states.
    • Preservation of public order or prevention of incitement to cognizable offences.

Government Website Blocking: Reasons and Challenges

Government’s Motivations for Blocking Websites:

  • Driven by concerns related to national security, public order, and adherence to legal regulations.
  • Aims to counter threats such as terrorism, hate speech, or the dissemination of illegal content.

Challenges in Website Blocking:

  • Users can easily bypass blocks using tools like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), making enforcement challenging.
  • Evolution in encryption technologies employed by web browsers and companies complicates the level of visibility that Internet providers have on user activity.

Implications of Government Website Blocking:

Freedom of Expression Concerns:

  • Raises concerns about freedom of expression, necessitating a balance between protecting national interests and citizens’ rights to express opinions.

Limitation of Information and Perspectives:

  • Hinders access to valuable information and diverse perspectives, limiting the public’s ability to stay informed and make well-rounded decisions.

Economic Repercussions:

  • May have economic implications, affecting legitimate businesses hosted on blocked platforms, potentially stifling innovation and economic growth.

Trust and Perception:

  • Shapes public perception and trust in government’s commitment to democratic values.
  • Arbitrary or unjustified website blocking can lead to a loss of trust in government institutions, impacting civic engagement.

-Source: The Hindu


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