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All Posts | Oct 25,2019

Websites blocked in 2019

 Websites blocked by MeitY in 2019

In a reply to our latest RTI on blocked websites Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) revealed that the Ministry issued blocking orders for 20 websites between January to October 2019. No further information was provided by the Ministry.

The following information was sought by us:

1) Number of websites/URLs currently blocked in India.

2) Names and URLs of the websites blocked in 2019.

3)Copies of blocking orders issued in 2019.

In a reply to our RTI filed in 2017 we were informed that until August 2017 the number of websites/URLs blocked in India stood at 23,030. A reply to another RTI filed by us in 2018 disclosed that 14,221 websites were blocked between 2010 to 2018. This indicates a significant drop in the number of blocking orders from approx. 1,777 websites per year between 2010 and 2018, to 20 in 2019. 

Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 enables blocking of websites/URLs. This Section mentions that the Central Government or an officer authorized by it may, through a speaking order recorded in writing, block public access to information on a computer resource, by directing any agency of government or intermediary. Such public access is blocked when it is necessary ‘in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above’. In cases of non-compliance, intermediaries are liable for punishment with imprisonment which may extend to 7 years and a fine.

“The Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009’ provides the procedures and safeguards subject to which such blocking orders are to be carried out.

A copy of the response to our latest RTI is provided below.

All Posts | Oct 09,2017

[RTI] 23030 websites/URLs currently blocked in India

According to the Cyber Laws and E-Security Group under Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology Group (MeitY), as many as 23,030 websites /URLs are currently blocked in India.

This information was received as a reply to a Right to Information application filed by us on August 28, 2017.

The following information was sought in the RTI application:

1) Number of websites / URLs currently blocked in India.

2) Names and URLs of the websites that are blocked.

3) Copies of blocking orders issued by the Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications to block such websites.

The reply to the RTI application was received by us on Oct 6, 2017, wherein only the specific number of blocked websites / URLs was provided with. The rest of the information was denied 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.

The response to the RTI application is provided below.

All Posts | Aug 12,2017

The Internet Archive is among 2650 websites blocked for copyright infringement

The Internet Archive – a non-profit initiative that has been archiving online content like web pages, books, text, audio, video, images, and software since 1996 – has become one of the latest casualties in the Indian movie industry’s crusade against online piracy. As of August 8, 2017, http://archive.org along with 2649 other URLs has been blocked from public access across the country pursuant to orders issued by the Madras High Court (available here and here). The orders were issued in connection with civil suits filed against 37 ISPs, 5 cable operators and 8 unknown defendants (impleaded as “Ashok Kumar” – the Indian equivalent of “John Doe”) by Red Chillies Entertainment and Prakash Jha Productions (respective producers of Jab Harry Met Sejal and Lipstick Under My Burkha), alleging copyright infringement of their works.

Users in some regions have reported being able to access the website still, and the “https” version of the site continues to be accessible for all at the time of writing this post, but most users trying to access the website are simply shown the message “Your requested URL has been blocked as per the directions received from Department of Telecommunications, Government of India. Please contact administrator for more information.” Interestingly, the Internet Archive was reportedly blocked once before in late 2014/early 2015 as part of a larger group of websites for unknown reasons, but this block was subsequently reversed.

This instance of overbroad censorship is a disturbing development for many reasons, not the least important of which is that the Internet Archive, specially its web page archiving component – the Wayback Machine, has been a very useful tool in ensuring accountability amongst public officials and others. The Wayback Machine allows users to browse over 302 billion screenshots of web pages taken over the past two decades, enabling them to see what a web page looked like on a particular date and even to view content that may since have been altered or removed. Moreover, it is most unfortunate that Indian copyright law has lent itself to misuse by overzealous litigants who seek to block large portions of the Internet over alleged copyright infringements, and by courts that readily grant grotesquely disproportionate reliefs without necessarily taking the time to properly evaluate the legitimacy of claims. The Madras High Court in particular has reportedly become somewhat of a preferred jurisdiction to obtain such blocking orders due to the ease with which this can be done as compared to other states.

By blindly allowing the plaintiffs’ request to have a large number of URLs blocked over alleged copyright infringement, Indian citizens have effectively been denied access to a crucial Internet resource that infused an extent of accountability into public life. This heavily underscores the need to re-visit norms governing online censorship, and to hold the judiciary to a greater standard of accountability when entertaining suits such as the present one.

All Posts | Mar 26,2014

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

All Posts | Jul 02,2012

When Copyright Tramples on the Right to Freedom of Expression

Vimeo, Pastebin, Piratebay and many other sites were blocked for over a month in India. There was lot of clamour in the twitterverse and social networking sites against the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) on this large scale website blocking. However, areply that SFLC.in has received from MTNL in response to an application under the RTI Act reveals the real picture. The reply shows how agents of copyright owners have misrepresented the Court order and forced ISPs to block these websites.

MTNL has furnished acopy of the letter that they received from Copyright Labs, the agents for M/s Creative Commercials Media & Entertainment Limited who are the the producers of the movie "Dammu". Copyright Labs have in the letter demanded that the ISPs block a long list of 272 websites including vimeo.com, pastebin.com and xmarks.com citing the Chennai High Court order. This is a clear misrepresentation of the court order as the order does not require blocking of websites. Earlier, areply that SFLC.in receivedfrom DOT showed that DOT had not issued any order to block websites.

 

A reply that SFLC.in has received from MTNL in response to an application under the RTI Act reveals the real picture.

The order in the suit filed by M/s Creative Commercials Media & Entertainment Limited restrains 38 Internet Service Providers (ISP) including MTNL, BSNL and Airtel and unknown persons named as "Ashok Kumar" from infringing the copyright by copying or communicating or allowing others to communicate or copying the movie. The orders with directions to unknown persons are often termed as John Doe orders or as Ashok Kumar orders in India. Such orders are issued when suspected offenders are unknown. This ensures that the copyright owner is not forced to approach the court to obtain an injunction every time the identity of an offender is known.

The Chennai High Court had also issued temporary injunctions in a suit filed by RK Productions, the producers of the movie "3". It is ironical that the movie "3" which derived maximum publicity from its song "kolaver di" having gone viral on social media and content sharing networks has now become the reason for blocking those very websites which ensured the wide distribution of the song and made it a roaring success. MTNL has stated in the reply that they received a letter from RK Productions, but they have enclosed the letter sent by Copyright Labs on behalf of Creative Commercials Media & Entertainment Limited.

Now, the question to be asked is whether such indiscriminate blocking of websites is mandated by the order of the Chennai High Court. The order restrains the ISPs as well as unknown persons from infringing the copyright or allowing others to infringe. The order does not have any direction on blocking of websites. SFLC.in contacted Mr.Harish Ram, CEO of Copyright Labs and he assured us that they have only asked the ISPs to block specific URLs that are infringing on their copyright. However, we filed this RTI request to verify this and the copy of the letter that they have sent to ISPs shows that what he said is not true. Their action in asking for blocking of entire websites is a mis-representation of a judicial order to cause indiscriminate blocking of these web-services through out the country.

The ISPs have chosen not to take a risk and have over-complied with the High Court order by blocking entire websites instead of taking down only the infringing content. The uncertainty that is prevailing about the safe harbour provisions, thanks to the problematic Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 and the pending cases against Google and Facebook could have prompted them to take the safer option than to stand up for the rights of their users. This does not bode well for Internet freedom in India and is an ominous sign of things to come.

The Chennai High Court by a subsequent order dated June 15, 2012 clarified that the John Doe order issued to the producers of the movie "Dammu" is "only in respect of the particular URL where the infringing movie is kept and not in respect of the entire website". We hope that this clarification would stop further instances of indiscriminate blocking of websites. However, we find that the Piratebay is blocked even now in most networks.

The Supreme Court has held the right to receive information to be an ingredient of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. When this right of the citizens are violated by such indiscriminate blocking of websites, it does not augur well for the largest democracy in the world.

This instance of blocking underlines the need for the law to prescribe penalties for sending such inappropriate blocking requests. This could be considered when the Government reviews the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 as promised by Kapil Sibal, the Minister for Communications & Information Technology in the Parliament.

Copyright owners need to understand the importance of the medium in popularising and monetising their work and should not take such ill advised action that affects this dynamic medium which is on an exponential growth path in India.

All Posts | Jun 11,2012

Vimeo Block Not Ordered by DOT

Many websites like Vimeo.com, pastebin.com and thepiratebay.se have been blocked in India for nearly a month now. The message shown on trying to access the blocked sites on the Airtel network is "This website/URL has been blocked until further notice either pursuant to Court orders or on the Directions issued by the Department of Telecommunications". Intrigued by this message which does not specify the reason for the block, SFLC.in filed an application under the Right to Information Act on May 14, 2012 to the Department of Telecommunications(DOT). We requested the information as to whether any orders have been issued by the DOT for blocking such websites.

We have received a response today from the DOT which states that "As per available information no blocking instruction to block websites like Pirate-bay and Vimeo etc. has been issued by the Department of Telecommunications to Internet Service Providers (sic)".News reportssuggest that these blocks have been carried out to comply with interim injunctions styled as John Doe orders issued by the Chennai High Court in a suit filed by the producers of the Tamil movie "3".

Watch this space for more information as the internet users continue to ask "Why this kolaveri di..."