Increasing its pressure on the unregulated use of social media platforms, the government has urged internet and telecom service providers to explore various possible options for blocking of mobile applications including Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram in situations where national security and public order are under threat.
According to a senior official at the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), a letter was sent to all telecom operators and industry bodies such as Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI), asking for their views on how to block the applications under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. “DoT has sent a letter to the service providers seeking inputs from them on the issue given that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy) and law enforcement agencies have raised issue around blocking of certain mobile apps to meet the requirement under Section 69A of the IT Act,” the official said.
He added that the issue was raised in a meeting between the operators and the department last month, wherein technical inputs were sought from the companies to “explore the possibility of blocking of certain mobile applications”.
The Section 69A of IT Act talks about power to issue directions for blocking for public access to any information through any computer resource. The law authorises the central government or any officer authorised by it to issue direction to block the information on Internet 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 for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence relating to them.
The government has stepped up its efforts to control the content being circulated on various social platforms that has created law and order issues in the past, particularly those arising out of spread of fake news through apps such as WhatsApp. IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad last month told the Parliament that it was critical for social media service providers to ensure the lawful provision of their services and platforms in India to continue receiving access to Indian users. The government is also planning to further strengthen the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines), 2011 under IT Act to address new forms of challenges on social media platforms.
In response to a notice, WhatsApp has informed MEITy that it is building a local team as part of steps to check fake news circulation but has not met the key demand of identifying message originators. According to an IT Ministry official, WhatsApp has outlined initiatives being taken to curb fake news circulation including education and advocacy efforts. It is also building an India-based team, the official said but noted that the measures do not meet the government’s expectations on ‘traceability’ and attribution of such messages.