The government has informed the parliamentary standing committee on information technology (IT) that it has issued orders to take down more than 1,000 URLs till March 7 this year, people familiar with the matter said.
A Uniform Resource Locator (URL) acts as the address of a resource — webpage, app, etc — on the internet.
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The panel, led by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, was informed by the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) earlier this week that it blocked 1,385, 2,799, 3,635, 9,849, 6,096 and 1,096 URLs during the years 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 (till 7th March, 2022) respectively, said one of the people mentioned above asking not to be named.
Content removal is carried out at the direction of a designated officer, and the decisions are reviewed by an inter-ministerial committee under section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
The highest number of take down orders came in 2020, after the border tensions between India and China flared up in the aftermath of a clash in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley on June 15 — the first deadly conflict between soldiers of the two sides along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 45 years.
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The clash resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers, including a commanding officer, and an undisclosed number of Chinese soldiers.
On June 29 that year, the government decided to ban video platform Tik Tok and 59 other applications. A second round of blocks came on July 23, when the ministry decided to take down mirror applications that were functioning despite the ban. The applications were banned for being a “threat to the sovereignty of the country and national security”.
On September 2, 2020, came the third round of blocks, this time taking down 118 mobile applications, including the popular gaming platform PUBG, for “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner”.
In February this year, the ministry decided to block 54 more apps, after receiving inputs from the Union ministry of home affairs that they were clones of the previously taken down apps and presented a privacy and security issues, as well raised espionage concerns.
During the meeting with the House panel on IT, the ministry also outlined the various steps it has taken to ensure internet safety in the country.
“Amidst the growing concerns around lack of transparency, accountability and rights of users related to digital media and with an aim to ensure an Open, Safe & Trusted and Accountable Internet, MeitY has notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (“IT Rules, 2021”) on 25th February, 2021 under the IT Act,” the ministry said.
It mandates that social media platforms remove any unlawful content within 36 hours, however, in cases related to sexual acts, nudity or morphed images, the content has to be taken down with 24 hours.
As far as cybersecurity training is concerned, the ministry said it conducted 15 and 19 training programs covering 708 and 5,169 participants during the years 2020 and 2021 respectively.