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Ban on VLC Media Player

  • 19 Aug 2022
  • 9 min read

For Prelims: IT Act 2000, IT Rules 2009, Section 69A, Powers of Executive in Banning Content, Cyber Security

For Mains: Provisions of IT Act 2000, Powers of Government in regulating content, Government initiative for cyber security

Why in News?

The website of VideoLAN Client (VLC) Media Player has been banned in India.

  • VLC states that according to its statistics, its website has been banned since February 2022 in India.

What do we need to know about the VLC & Its Ban?

  • About VLC:
    • VLC gained popularity in India in the late 90s when advancements in information technology led to the penetration of personal computers in Indian homes.
    • Apart from being free and open source, VLC easily integrates with other platforms and streaming services and supports all file formats without requiring additional codecs.
  • Ban on VLC:
    • While the VLC website has been banned, the VLC app continues to be available for download on Google and Apple stores.
    • Civil society organisations have repeatedly filed Right to Information (RTI) applications with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) regarding the ban on VLC website.
      • However, these applications have been met with similar responses stating that “no information is available” with the Ministry.
      • When the website was accessed previously, the message “The website has been blocked as per order of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology under Information Technology Act, 2000”, was displayed.
    • Reasons for Ban:
      • China’s Interference:
        • Report from cybersecurity firm, Symantec, in April 2022 suggested that Cicada, a hacker group allegedly backed by China, has been using the VLC Media Player to deploy a malicious malware loader.
      • Safe Server:
        • VLC website has been banned; its app is available for download as the app stores’ servers where the mobile apps are hosted are considered safer than servers where the desktop versions are hosted.

When can the Government Ban Online Content to the Public?

  • There are two routes through which content can be blocked online:
    • Executive:
      • Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000:
        • Section 69A allows the government to direct an intermediary to “block for access by the public” any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource if it is necessary or expedient to do so, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence”.
        • Section 69A draws its power from Article 19(2) of the Constitution which allows the government to place reasonable restrictions on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
    • Judiciary:
      • Courts in India have the power to direct intermediaries to make content unavailable in India to provide effective remedy to the victim/plaintiff.
        • For example, courts may order internet service providers to block websites which provide access to pirated content and violate the plaintiff’s copyright.

What is the Procedure of Blocking Content Online?

  • About:
    • Detailed procedure for blocking content is provided by the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 (IT Rules, 2009) that have been formulated under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
      • Only the Central government can exercise the power of directing intermediaries to block access to online content directly, and not the State governments.
  • Process:
    • Central or State agencies appoint a “Nodal Officer” who will forward the blocking order to the “Designated Officer” of the Central government.
    • The designated officer, as part of a committee, examines the request of the nodal officer.
      • The committee comprises representatives from the Ministries of Law and Justice, Information and Broadcasting, Home Affairs, and the Cert-In.
    • The creator/host of the content in question is given a notice to submit clarifications and replies.
    • The committee then makes a recommendation on whether the request of the nodal officer should be accepted or not.
      • If this recommendation is approved by the MeitY, the designated officer can direct the intermediary to remove content.

What are Government’s Initiatives for Cyber Security?

Way Forward

  • Transparency:
    • Rule 16 of the IT Rules, 2009 provides that strict confidentiality is to be maintained with respect to any requests or actions under the IT Rules, 2009.
      • This should be revisited and an element of transparency should be introduced as there is no clarity on why VLC has been blocked.
  • Opportunity to Reply:
    • The lack of an opportunity to submit clarifications/replies by the creator/host violates the principles of natural justice.
      • Appropriate time should be allowed for the creator/host to present his reply in front of the respective authority.
  • Review Committee Effectiveness:
    • It has been noted that the Review Committee, which is required to meet every two months to review orders, has not disagreed with any of the committee’s decisions.
      • It should strive to review the orders of the committee with in-depth analysis and provide the appropriate recommendations.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Questions (PYQs)

Prelims

Q. In India, it is legally mandatory for which of the following to report on cyber security incidents? (2017)

  1. Service providers
  2. Data centres
  3. Body corporate

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 only
(b) 1 and 2 only
(c) 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3

Ans: (d)

Exp:

  • According to section 70B of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act), the Union Government by notification should appoint an agency named Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERTIn) to serve as the national agency for incident response.
  • The Union Government under section 70B of the IT Act, 2000 established and notified rules of CERT-In in 2014. According to Rule 12(1)(a), it is mandatory for service providers, intermediaries, data centers and corporate bodies to report cyber security incidence to CERT-In within a reasonable time of occurrence of the incident. Hence, 1, 2 and 3 are correct.
  • Therefore, option (d) is the correct answer.

Mains

Q. What are the main socio-economic implications arising out of the development of IT industries in major cities of India? (2021)

Q. Discuss different types of cybercrimes and measures required to be taken to fight the menace. (2020)

Q. Data security has assumed significant importance in the digitized world due to rising cybercrimes. The Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee Report addresses issues related to data security. What, in your view, are the strengths and weaknesses of the Report relating to protection of personal data in cyber space? (2018)

Source: TH

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