- The VideoLAN Client (VLC) media player website has been banned in India.
- Whereas VLC says that according to its data its website is banned in India since February 2022.
VLC and the restrictions imposed on it:
- VLC gained popularity in India in the late 90s when advances in information technology led to the entry of personal computers into India.
- In addition to being free and open source, VLC easily integrates with other platforms and streaming services and supports all file formats without the need for additional codecs.
Restrictions on VLC:
- The VLC website has been banned, yet the VLC app is available for download on the Google and Apple stores.
- Several Right to Information (RTI) applications have been filed by civil society organizations with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) regarding the ban on the VLC website.
- However, in response to these applications, the Ministry has said that “no information is available”.
- When the website was accessed earlier, the message “The website has been blocked as per the order of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology under the Information Technology Act, 2000” was displayed.
Reason for the ban:
- A report by cyber security firm, Symantec, in April 2022 suggested that a hacker group allegedly backed by China was using VLC media player to activate Cicada malware.
- The VLC website has been banned; Its app, available for download as the App Store’s servers where mobile apps are hosted, is considered safer than the servers where desktop versions are hosted.
When can the government ban online content for the public?
There are two routes through which content can be blocked online:
Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000:
- Section 69A grants any arbitrator to the Government the sovereignty and integrity of India, the defense of India, the security of the State, “Access by the public” any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource in the interest of friendly relations or public order with foreign States or to prevent the commission of any cognizable offence for blocking”.
- Section 69A derives its power from Article 19(2) of the Constitution which allows the government to impose reasonable restrictions on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
- Courts in India have the power to direct the arbitrators to make the content unavailable in India in order to provide effective remedy to the victim/plaintiff.
- For example, courts can order internet service providers to block websites that provide access to pirated content and infringe on a plaintiff’s copyright.
What is the process to block content online?
- The Information Technology (Procedure and Security for Blocking Access to Information by the Public) Rules, 2009 (IT Rules, 2009), framed under section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, provided detailed procedure for blocking of content.
- Only the Central Government can exercise the power to direct intermediaries to block access to online content and not the State Government.
- The Central or State agencies appoint a “Nodal Officer” who will forward the orders of the Central Government to the “Designated Officer”.
The designated officer as part of a committee scrutinizes the request of the nodal officer.
- The committee includes representatives from the Ministries of Law and Justice, Information and Broadcasting, Home Affairs and CERT-IN.
- A notice is given to the creator/host of the content under consideration for clarification and submission of reply.
- The committee then recommends whether the request of the nodal officer should be accepted or not.
- If this recommendation is approved by the MEITY, the Designated Officer may instruct the arbitrator to remove the content.