DEITY provides list of sites blocked in 2013, but withholds orders!

Sri.Kapil Sibal, Hon'ble Minister of Communications & Information Technology informed the Lok Sabha on Dec 11, 2013 that the Government has asked social networking sites to block 1208 web addresses or URLs in 2013 to comply with court orders. SFLC.IN filed an application under the Right To Information Act, 2005 to the Department of Telecommunications (DOT), requesting the lists of URLs blocked in 2013, copies of orders directing blocking of the URLs as well as copies of court orders. We approached the DOT as the blocking orders are often issued by DOT and not DEITY as mandated by the law.

The DOT transferred the application to Department of Electronics & Information Technology (DEITY). The Additional Director & Central Public Information Officer of E-Security and Cyber Laws from DEITY responded by providing the 1208 Blocked URLs. However the copies of the orders as well as the court orders were denied citing the confidentiality clause under Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Procedures and Safeguards for blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 notified under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.

Rule 16 of these Rules provides that strict confidentiality shall be maintained regarding all requests and complaints received and actions taken thereof. However, the non-obstante clause in Section 22 of the RTI Act will override this rule. As per Section 22 of the RTI Act, 2005 the provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923, and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act. The Central Information Commission has held in R.S.Misra v CPIO, (CIC/SM/A/2011/000237/SG/12351) that where there is any inconsistency in a law as regards furnishing of information, such law shall be superseded by the RTI Act.

Rule 16 of the above rules providing for strict confidentiality is inconsistent with the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005. A matter of concern is that the confidentiality clause is incorporated by a rule issued by the Government and is not envisaged by the legislature in the Information Technology Act, 2000. The PIL filed by PUCL challenging Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 before the Hon'ble Supreme Court also calls for greater transparency in orders issued for website blocking and for the publication of the orders in the Gazette and in the website of DEITY.

The legal arguments aside, the Government, in the interest of transparency, should strive towards providing reasons and informing the public about any instance of website blocking. The list has a range of URLs including Facebook pages and Twitter handles to Wordpress blogs and many websites. SFLC.IN will be coming out with a detailed analysis soon on the URLs blocked.

SFLC.IN will be maintaining a list of blocked URLs and take-down notices received by websites in the interest of transparency and accountability. We request anyone who has information on blocked URLs or has received a take-down notice to share the information with us by writing to help@sflc.in