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Govt says it blocked 6,454 websites in 2018-19, but numbers don’t add up


The central government blocked as many as 6,454 websites, URLs, social media accounts in 2018 and 2019 under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. This was revealed in a Parliamentary answer given by IT Minister of State Sanjay Dhotre to a question asked by CM Ramesh, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member from Andhra Pradesh, in the Rajya Sabha. However, there seems to a mismatch with figures provided by the ministry earlier this year (more on this below).

Ramesh asked the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) whether it was planning to formulate any policy to stop the “misuse of social media platforms”. He also asked about the number of cases of misuse of social media platforms in the last two years.

In his reply, Dhotre said the misuse of social media platforms and cyberspace is a global issue, and name-dropped the Information Technology Act, 2011, and the Intermediary Guidelines Rules under it. He didn’t give any response on whether the government had any plan to formulate any policy on the subject.

Webpages, URLs, accounts blocked under Section 69A of IT Act, 2000 (as of September 22, 2020): 

  • 2018: 2,799
  • 2019: 3,655
  • Total: 6,454

Curiouser and curiouser: The case(s) of mismatched numbers

Interestingly, the numbers for 2018 are different from those submitted by MEITY early this year. In March, Pratima Boumik and Sudhakar Tukaram Shrangare, both BJP members, had posed a similar question to MEITY. Dhotre had then replied that the number of URLs blocked in 2019 was 3,635. This is 20 fewer than the number ministry has submitted now. The number for 2018 is the same (2,799), while the number for 2017 is 1,385.

One explanation to this mismatch is that the latest figure includes “webpages, URLs, accounts”, while the figure from March includes only “URLs”. However, both “webpages” and “accounts” could also be considered “URLs”, so it isn’t clear what this distinction tells us.

The MEITY has submitted confusing numbers in the past as well. In December 2018, the ministry told the Lok Sabha that it had blocked 2,388 social media URLs that year, and 1,329 in 2017. The question was answered on December 12, 2018, but the figures for that year were up to December 31, 2018, indicating perhaps that MEITY could predict the future. If the present number for 2018 — 2,799 — is to be believed, as many as 411 social media URLs were blocked in a matter of just 19 days between December 12 and 31 of 2018.

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Even the latest 2017 number does match with the ministry’s figures provided in in December 2018. At that time, the ministry had said that 1,329 social media URLs were blocked in 2017, but now it says the number is 1,385 — an increase of 56.

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