Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 – UPSC GS2

  • In 2015, the Supreme Court:
    • Struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, as unconstitutional in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India.
    • Upheld Section 69A
Section 66A of IT Act:
This section allowed 3 year imprisonment and fine for any person wo sends offensive information online.
Section 69A of IT Act:
Section 69A of Information Technology Act, 2000 provides for blocking of websites and Uniform Resource Locators(URL’s) in following cases:
  • In the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India,
  • In defence of India,
  • To maintain security of the state,
  • To maintain friendly relations with foreign states or
  • To maintain public order or
  • For preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to the above.
Shreya Singhal Vs Union of India:
Supreme court in Shreya Singhal Vs Union of India case had nullified the Section 66A but upheld the constitutionality of Section 69A on the grounds that there are sufficient internal safeguards and reasonable procedures available within Section 69A. Those safeguards are:
  1.  Intermediaries (those who host articles like Google, Facebook etc.) have to be given a chance to be heard as a right.
  2. If the original originator of a particular article is found, he/she also must be given a hearing.
  3. Above two can be circumvented if a court itself passes an order to block websites or URL’s.
Given the nature of security concerns that internet information can create like the exodus of north east people from south India in 2013, organizing riots through internet based campaigning etc. it is very important government has a power to exercise blocking of content, thus Section 69A is necessary. But at the same time more transparency clauses has to be brought into the IT Act if required and the presence of free media, active judiciary and vocal civil society groups are enough deterrent on any excess of government.
Twitter Controversy:
  • The Ministry of Electronics and IT ordered Twitter to block more than 250 tweets/Twitter accounts. The order was issued for making fake, intimidating, and provocative tweets.
  • The development came in the wake of violence in Delhi on January 26 during a tractor parade of farmers, protesting against the three farm bills.
  • Accounts included were linked to an influential magazine, members of an opposition party, and the protest movement such as Kisan Ekta Morcha.
  • Many accounts were blocked after the order. However, the majority of them have been restored.
Issues with Blocking Power:
  • The government can issue restricting orders without any evidence. It undermines the Fundamental Right to free speech.
  • The confidentiality of orders makes it very difficult for users to challenge it in open courts. There is no requirement of giving any reason or hearing opportunity is a clear violation of due process. 
  • These rules make censorship an easy and costless option. It places the burden of going to court and gathering the evidence on the user.
  • The framing of section 69A is in such a way that protection of online free speech mainly depends on the courage shown by intermediaries against government’s blocking orders.
Way Forward:
  • Reforms should take place in compliance with prior judgments of SC. In the Shreya Singhal case, the court allowed challenges to blocking orders in high courts. In the Kashmir Internet ban case, the court said any order restricting access to the internet should be put in the public domain.
  • The government should block access to information only when an affected party is given a fair hearing in courts. Direct blocking should be permissible only in emergency situations.
  • Blocking orders must be put in the public domain along with proper reasoning. The power of government to limit the flow of information needs to be rationalized.
Related Questions:
  • Do you think the Section 69A of the I.T. Act is unconstitutional? Critically comment. (200 Words)

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