Section 69 (A) – The Core IAS

Section 69 (A)

Context: Government has asked social media platforms to take down Manipur video.

What is Section 69 (A)?

  • Section 69 of the IT Act allows the government to issue content-blocking orders to online intermediaries such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs), telecom service providers, web hosting services, search engines, online marketplaces, etc. The Section requires the information or content being blocked to be deemed a threat to India’s national security, sovereignty, or public order.
  • If the Centre or state government are satisfied that blocking the content is “necessary” and “expedient” on grounds of “sovereignty or integrity of India, defence 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 or for investigation of any offence,” it may, for reasons to be recorded in writing, direct any agency “to intercept, monitor or decrypt or cause to be intercepted or monitored or decrypted any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource,” the law says.
  • As per rules that govern these blocking orders, any request made by the government is sent to a review committee, which then issues these directions. Blocking orders issued under Section 69 (A) of the IT Act are typically confidential in nature.

What has the SC said on Section 69 (A)?

  • In a landmark 2015 ruling, the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal vs Union of India struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000, which entailed punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services, etc. The plea had also challenged Section 69A of the Information Technology Rules 2009, but the SC held this to be “constitutionally valid”.
  • “It will be noticed that Section 69A unlike Section 66A is a narrowly drawn provision with several safeguards. First and foremost, blocking can only be resorted to where the Central Government is satisfied that it is necessary to do so. Secondly, such necessity is relatable only to some of the subjects set out in Article 19(2). Thirdly, reasons have to be recorded in writing in such blocking order so that they may be assailed in a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution,” the Court noted.

How did the Karnataka HC rule on this?

  • Section 69A was again under legal scrutiny in July last year when Twitter approached the Karnataka HC against the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).
  • Alleging disproportionate use of power by officials, Twitter challenged the Ministry’s content-blocking orders issued under Section 69 (A) after the IT Ministry wrote to the social media giant, asking it to comply with its orders or lose safe harbour protection.
  • In July this year, a single-judge bench of the Karnataka HC dismissed the plea, saying the Centre had the power to block tweets.
  • Justice Krishna D Dixit also ruled that the blocking powers of the Centre extend to not just single tweets but entire user accounts. “I am of the considered opinion that the power to block under section 69A (1) of the Act read with Website Blocking Rules is not tweet-specific but extends to user accounts in their entirety,” Justice Dixit.