6,775 URLs blocked in 2022, panel met 53 times

2022 also recorded a slight uptick in the number of websites and social media links blocked, compared to previous years

Updated - February 10, 2023 12:50 am IST

Published - February 08, 2023 07:43 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Image for representative purpose only.

Image for representative purpose only.

A committee to consider blocking requests under the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information for Public) Rules, 2009, met 53 times in 2022, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) said in a parliamentary response on Wednesday.

The government issued orders directing the “blocking [of] a total of 2799, 3635, 9849, 6096 and 6775 URLs during the year 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 respectively,” the IT Ministry said in response to a question by Congress MP Karti P. Chidambaram.

In 2020, the government blocked several posts on social media that were critical of its handling of the pandemic, and also advised social media platforms to curb posts that called the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus an “Indian” one. After that year, 2022 represents the highest number of blocking orders issued to internet providers and social media platforms.

An RTI response obtained by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) reveals that of the 6,775 posts and websites, almost half were posts on Twitter. The social media platform has been fighting against some takedown orders in the Karnataka High Court, but after the company was acquired by businessman Elon Musk, it has said that legal requests that are “appropriately” received by the company will be complied with.

“If the Twitter and non-Twitter URLs are taken together, the average for blocking orders recommended by the Review Committee under Rule 7 in 2021 is hundreds per month,” CHRI director Venkatesh Nayak wrote in an analysis. Mr. Nayak flagged the volume of orders officials had approved for blocking.

According to the rules, all complaints have to be examined by the review committee, which includes a designated officer as chairperson along with his team consisting of representatives not below the rank of Joint Secretary in the Ministries of Law and Justice, Home Affairs, Information and Broadcasting and the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team appointed under Section 70B(1) of the IT Act, 2000.

“The Secretary [of] MeitY and the Committee are required to apply their mind to hundreds of such orders every month before giving their approval,” Mr. Nayak pointed out. “How much time they have actually devoted to such matters is anybody’s guess.”

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