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Section 69 Of IT Act: Is It A Threat To Our Privacy?

Twitter India recently blocked several twitter accounts like – Caravan India, Kisan ekta morcha and 250 other such accounts which sparked a controversy. Ministry of electronics and information technology ordered to blocked these accounts citing the reason of Incitement to genocide. There are apprehensions that these accounts were blocked to maintain public law and order amidst the ongoing farmer protest.

However, what we need to understand is that this is not a first step that was taken under section 69a of IT act. Previous year, several Chinese apps were also banned under this section amidst the deadly clash between the armies of both the nation. Plus two years ago, jio users were also complaining that they were unable to access websites like Indian kanoon and apps like reddit and Telegram .Later, it was found that these apps and websites too were blocked by government under same directive.

About Section 69 Of It Act, 2000

Section 69a was amendment in information technology act in 2008 by parliament. It allowed the central government to denied public access on any website or any app which found to be misleading and threat to national security of nation. A notification released by ministry of home affairs in 2018 also sparked a controversy at that time by specifying 10 specialized agencies for interception and monitoring of accounts under section 69 of it act.

However , it should be noted that Indian telegraph act of 1885 also permitted agencies for monitoring of accounts but only under 5 condition which are – Intergrity of India, Security of state, Public order, friendly relations with states and to prevent the incitement of an offences which was kept intact by government under IT act also by recent notification. However, the inclusion of sixth ground which is – investigation of crime itself enlarges its arena and its scope plus it allows agencies to reach directly to reach to the subscribers without any middle agency. Working as a cherry on the top, it also has a provision of imprisonment of maximum 7 years in case of incorporation with agencies.

Shreya Singhal v/s Union Of India, 2015

Supreme court in case shreya singhal v UOI upheld the validity of section 69a which extends to the blocking or restricting certain websites or apps in interest of security of state and to maintain integrity of India. As it is related to the national security, therefore queries under RTI would not be entertained as far as section 69a is concerned. Supreme court in this case stated that it is absolutely constitutional but still any order to block or restrict any site should be in written and it has to be approved by a committee which would also include the members of ministry of law and justice and ministry of home affairs.

Is It A Threat To Privacy?

Right to privacy is a fundamental right directed by a supreme court in case KS puttaswamy vs UOI by a nine judge bench. However, it is to be noted that like any other fundamental right it is not absolute and is subjected to restriction and these restrictions are – (a) backed by law (b) legitimate aim and (c) should be proportionate. Hence any order that would be passed under section 69a should be subjected to these restrictions and should pass this three fold test.

The matter of concern is that even shree Krishna committee which has a responsibility to look out for the data protection law in india expressed its concern over the lack of judicial activism and government's enthusiasm to curtail the fundamental right of right to privacy. It gives the reference of countries like – united kingdom, US and south Africa where privacy is an absolute right and people are adequately safeguarded over government surveillance actions.

Information technology act is not an only act which curtails the individual’s liberty but are one of these laws. Various laws such as – Indian telegraph act and indian post office act are other such acts. Indian aspiration for online liberty are being expressed over the years and hence it is really necessary to re evaluate the data protection and online privacy legislations in india which should be accepted by the masses.

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