NEW DELHI (TIP): Websites containing jehadi propaganda and other offensive material needed to be blocked in public interest and for protecting the sovereignty and integrity of the country, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Feb 26.
The Centre’s response came as it contested the arguments of internet service providers which had said that such by the government violated their rights.
The Centre said section 69A of the Information Technology Act, which empowers it to block such sites, was required as there were many websites which resorted to “blackmail” tactics by posting offensive material and refused to remove them.
“Facebook, google, twitter are responsible intermediaries but there are many lesser known intermediaries which are resorting to blackmail tactics by posting offensive articles and photos. People visit their sites out of curiosity and they get many hits which bring revenue to them. They are also reluctant to remove them as it would hit their business,” Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court.
Appearing before a bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Rohinton Fali Nariman, the ASG said the law could not exempt the intermediaries from liability of removing the offensive material and they had to put in place a mechanism to prevent them from going public.
Mehta said the government recently blocked 32 websites on the order of a Mumbai court as they contained jehadi propaganda. He said the social media was surreptitiously used for mentoring Indian youths to join jehadi activities.
He, however, said there were established procedures and safeguards to prevent any misuse of this power. He said the secretary, department of information technology, had to approve blocking of sites. He said the government “sparingly and cautiously” used this power and only 2455 sites were blocked in 2014 and 1349 sites in 2013.
He said the figure is minuscule in view of 80 million posts from India only on YouTube and Facebook in 2014.
“Thus in view of the above statistics, it cannot be said that the provisions of section 69A have been abused or excessively used to the detriment of freedom of speech and expression of the citizens,” he said. “The said right cannot be urged to declare the scheme of blocking guidelines as ultra vires given the background that such power is exercised when there are compelling reasons available with the competent authority that it is necessary and expedient to block a particular URL in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or preventing incitement to commission of any cognizable offence,” the ASG said.
The association of intermediaries had earlier told the court that the government should not take any punitive action against them as they only provided neutral platform to the people to post and action should be taken against persons who posted offensive material.