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Cyber law provision for blocking internet sites valid: Supreme Court

Besides Section 66A which was held as "unconstitutional", there was also challenge to the validity of Section 69A. Both provisions were added to the Act through amendments in 2009 by the erstwhile UPA government.

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday held as constitutionally valid section 69A of Information Technology Act, under which the Centre can exercise its power to issue directions to block an internet site, saying there are adequate procedural safeguards.

It noted that reasons for blocking have to be recorded in writing in such blocking order, which would be amenable to judicial scrutiny.

"Section 69A and the Information Technology (Procedure & Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 are constitutionally valid," a bench of justices J Chelameswar and R F Nariman said.

The bench rejected the contention that procedural safeguards provided under Sections 95 (power to declare certain publications forfeited) and 96 (appeal in High Court to set aside declaration of forfeiture) of CrPC are not available here.

Besides Section 66A which was held as "unconstitutional", there was also challenge to the validity of Section 69A. Both provisions were added to the Act through amendments in 2009 by the erstwhile UPA government.

"Merely because certain additional safeguards such as those found in section 95 and 96 CrPC are not available, does not make the Rules constitutionally infirm. We are of the view that the Rules are not constitutionally infirm in any manner," it said.

The bench noted that the Rules provide for a hearing before a committee set up for the purpose which then looks into whether or not it is necessary to block such information.

"It is only when the committee finds that there is such a necessity, that a blocking order is made," the bench.

The committee comprises government officials who under Rules are first to make all reasonable efforts to identify the originator or intermediary who has hosted the information.

Rejecting the petitioners' contention that there was no pre-decisional hearing afforded by the Rules particularly to the "originator" of information, the bench said the examination of Rules made it clear that not merely the intermediary, but if the "person", that is the originator, is identified, he is also to be heard before a blocking order is passed.

"Above all, it is only after these procedural safeguards are met that blocking orders are made, and in case there is a certified copy of a court order, only then can such blocking order also be made," the bench said.

It said that Section 69A unlike Section 66A (Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc) of the Act was a narrowly drawn provision with several safeguards.

The "first and foremost, blocking can only be resorted to where the Central Government is satisfied that it is necessary so to do," it said.

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