On August 28, 2017, SFLC.in filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 seeking the following information:
1. The number of websites that are currently blocked in India.
2. Names and URLs of the websites that are blocked.
3. Copies of blocking orders that have been issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to block such websites.
MeitY responded to the request on October 6, 2017, by providing only the specific number of websites / URLs that are blocked (23,030). The rest of the information was withheld on the basis of Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 which says that strict confidentiality shall be maintained regarding all the blocking requests and complaints received and actions taken thereof.
Thereafter, on October 9, 2017, a clarification was sent by the ministry, indicating that the previous response contained a typographical error, and the correct total number of websites / URLs that are blocked is 11, 422.
A first appeal was filed by us raising the following grounds:
1. The reply withholding the information is against Section 22 of the Right To Information Act, 2005 which states:
“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.”
In other words, this means that where there is any inconsistency in a law as regards furnishing of information, such law shall be superseded by the RTI Act. The information that the applicant is seeking does not come under any of the exemptions provided under section 8 and 9 of the RTI Act.
Therefore Rule 16 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 should be overridden by Section 22.
2. In the interest of transparency and accountability, the public has a right to access such information. Also, it is important to ensure that such blocking of websites / URLs does not lead to excessive censorship.
Following this, the First Appellate Authority called us for a discussion on December 8, 2017, and agreed to furnish information related to blocking orders that were passed in pursuance of a court order. Information related to websites / URLs that were blocked under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 was denied on the grounds that it would be counterproductive to maintaining national security and public order.
The files provided by MeitY are attached below
Blocked URL Database-Court Order-2017.xlsx (Links for Sheet 11 are given in the below PDF)