IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

SECTION 69A OF THE IT ACT

19th August, 2022 Polity and Governance

Copyright infringement not intended

In News

  • VideoLAN Client (VLC) website has been banned in India. However, there is no official information about this ban.
  • VLC spokesperson has stated that their website has been banned since February 2022.

 

Background

  • In India, VideoLan (VLC) gained popularity in the late 90s with the penetration of personal computers.
  • VLC is the most popular media player.
    • It is free and open-source software.
    • It easily integrates with other platforms and streaming services.
    • It supports all file formats without requiring additional coding.

 

Why was VLC banned?

  • Several Individuals and Civil society organizations have filed RTI applications with the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), but the reply states that “no information is available” with the Ministry.
    • However, the website displays the message “The website has been blocked as per the order of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology under IT Act, 2000”.
  • The lack of official information has led to the assumption that VLC was banned along with the 54 Chinese applications in February 2022.
    • VLC is not a Chinese app.
  • In April 2022, several cybersecurity firms raised concerns that hacker groups have been using the VLC Media Player to introduce a malicious malware loader.
  • Present status of the VLC in India
  • The present ban is a soft ban and not hard. While the VLC website has been banned, the VLC app continues to be available for download on Google and Apple stores.
    • This is probably because the app stores’ servers are believed to be safer than desktop website servers.

 

Section 69A of the IT Act 2000

  • Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act empowers the government to restrict access to any online content to protect the interest of;
    • Sovereignty and Integrity of the Nation.
    • Security of the State.
    • Friendly relations with foreign states.
    • Public order.
  • All orders to restrict information or content must be recorded in writing.
  • Social media intermediaries failing to comply with the rules and regulations are liable to be monetarily penalized along with an imprisonment term which may extend up to 7 years.
  • The procedures for executing the provisions of the act are mentioned in the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009.
    • Step 1: It mentioned that an officer along with an examination committee review the content in question within 48 hours of receiving the takedown request.
    • Step 2: Provide an opportunity to the author or originator of the content for clarifications.
    • Step 3: The recommendations are then sent to the Secretary of the Dept of Information Technology for approval and then a request is forwarded to the social media intermediary for restricting access.
  • Emergency provisions specify that clarification is required within 48 hours after the content has been blocked for specified reasons.
    • Blocking Orders can be revoked after review or examination.
  • Rule 16 of the act states that strict confidentiality should be maintained on all requests and actions taken, but without compromising transparency and accountability.
  • The Act complies with Article 19 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and expression. However, Clause 2 of the article allows the state to impose reasonable restrictions for the same reasons as those for Section 69A.

Concern

  • The Confidentiality Clause under the act is preventing legal challenges to content blocking orders; it is difficult to understand the Governments reasoning.
  • It doesn't come under the purview of Right to Information (RTI), recently the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) rejected many RTI requests that asked for the list of blocked websites.
  • The lack of transparency, Clear guidelines and a monitoring mechanism under the act means that there are various forms of arbitrary behaviour involved.
  • The concerns are raised mainly when the orders are aimed at blocking individual accounts and not the specific content.

 

Way Forward

  • The Supreme Court in the Superintendent, Central Prison, Fatehgarh vs Ram Manohar Lohia (1960) case has stated that restrictions made in the public interest must include a reasonable connection with the purpose being achieved.
  • In Shreya Singhal vs Union of India (2012) the Supreme Court has stated a mandatory hearing for the author of the content as well as the intermediary. It is also guaranteed under Rule 8 of the act.
  • India needs clarity about the rationality behind limitations and restrictions of free speech which may also guide legislative drafting and judicial decisions in the future.
  • We need to balance the National security concerns and Fundamental Rights of our Citizens.

 

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