Section 69(A) of IT Act

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

    Rationale behind Blocking 

    • The decision was based on a recommendation of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which had received inputs from central intelligence agencies that some of the sites and apps were allegedly linked to China and contained “material prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India”.

    What are some other instances of the government using Section 69A?

    • Following cross-border tensions with China, the MeitY banned 59 apps on June 29, 2020.
    • Similarly, on September 1, 2020, the government banned 118 apps, including the gaming app PUBG, followed by another ban on 49 apps on November 19, 2020.

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

    • About:
      • Section 69 of the IT Act confers the center and the state government powers to issue content-blocking orders to online intermediaries such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs), telecom service providers, web hosting services, search engines, online marketplaces, etc if the information or content being blocked to be deemed a threat to India’s national security, sovereignty, or public order.
    • Process of Blocking Internet Websites:
    • Section 69A, for similar reasons and grounds (as stated above), enables the Centre to ask any agency of the government, or any intermediary, to block access to the public of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored or hosted on any computer resource.
    • Any such request for blocking access must be based on reasons given in writing.
    • Penalty:
      • 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 Safeguards for Section 69(A)
      • Blocking can only be resorted to where the Central Government is satisfied that it is necessary to do so
      • Such necessity is relatable only to some of the subjects set out in Article 19(2). 
      • Reasons have to be recorded in writing in such blocking order so that they may be assailed in a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution.

    Supreme Court’s observations 

    • Shreya Singhal vs Union of India: In a landmark 2015 ruling, the Supreme Court in “Shreya Singhal vs Union of India” struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000, which entailed punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services, etc.
      • Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 is struck down in its entirety being violative of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved under Article 19(2).
    • The plea had also challenged Section 69A of the Information Technology Rules 2009, but the SC held this to be “constitutionally valid”.
    • The Court noticed that Section 69A unlike Section 66A is a narrowly drawn provision with several safeguards. 
      • First and foremost, blocking can only be resorted to where the Central Government is satisfied that it is necessary to do so. 
      • Secondly, such necessity is relatable only to some of the subjects set out in Article 19(2). 
      • Thirdly, reasons have to be recorded in writing in such blocking order so that they may be assailed in a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution.

    Source: IE