Provision for blocking content under new IT rules not new: Centre

It has been exercised for the past 11 years, clarifies I&B Ministry

February 27, 2021 09:48 pm | Updated 11:25 pm IST - New Delhi

The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Saturday clarified that no “new provision” had been added to the existing law, after uproar over a provision of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, under which the Secretary of the Ministry can block public access to any information in case of emergency.

“Certain misgivings are being raised regarding Rule 16 under Part III of the rules, which mention that in a case of emergency nature, interim blocking directions may be issued by the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. It is to inform that this provision is exactly the same as being exercised by the Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), since the past 11 years under the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009,” the I&B Ministry said in a statement here.

The Secretary, MeitY, has been replaced by the Secretary, I&B Ministry, as the rules have been amended to suitably to bring over-the-top (OTT) platforms and the digital media within the ambit of the I&B Ministry.

Severe criticism

The government has drawn severe criticism for bringing in rules to govern the digital media without any consultations with the news portals. Digipub News India Foundation, the largest collection of digital news publishers in India, has called the new rules unfair, the process of their formulation undemocratic and the method of their implementation an infringement upon the freedom of expression.

In a letter, jointly addressed to IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar, Digipub said, “These Rules in some places appear to go against the fundamental principle of news and its role in a democracy. While rules and laws already exist to hold news media accountable, the aforesaid rules enable the executive government to even remove content published as current affairs or news (Rule 14) among other things.”

Digipub said the rules attempt to overtake the natural legal course. For example if a complaint is raised against a news portal for “defamation” then as per the rules the government can block the information without as much as giving a hearing to the digital publishers.

“This entire legal process is bypassed by the Rules, in as much as, upon a complaint of defamation, a body consisting of bureaucrats and controlled by the Central Government may decide the merits and block access to the content of any current affairs publication,” they wrote.

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