Focus: GS-II International Relations

Introduction

  • In the wake of the face-off with Chinese forces on the India-China border in Ladakh, and a violent clash on June 15 that left 20 Indian soldiers dead, the Indian government on June 29 banned 59 apps of Chinese origin, citing data security and national sovereignty concerns.
  • These include popular ones such as TikTok, SHAREIt, UC Browser, CamScanner, Helo, Weibo, WeChat and Club Factory.

Why were the Chinese apps banned?

  • The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in a press release asserted that it had received “many complaints from various sources, including several reports about misuse of some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorised manner to servers which have locations outside India”.
  • The Ministry said it had decided to block the 59 apps to safeguard the “sovereignty and integrity of India”, invoking powers under Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act read with the relevant provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009.
  • The government also said that several citizens had reportedly raised concerns in representations to the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) regarding security of data and loss of privacy in using these apps.
  • In addition, the Ministry said it had also received “exhaustive recommendations” from the Home Ministry’s Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre.
  • The government did not name China openly in its action.

How large is the user base in India for these banned apps?

Estimates of active users of TikTok in India vary with the highest pegged at 200 million.

File-sharing tool SHAREIt has about 400 million users.

How will users be affected?

  • Installed apps may continue to exist on mobile devices. But now that the latest versions of the apps have been removed from Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store, users will not be able to access updated versions in future.
  • If a notice goes out to internet service providers asking that data flow from these apps be halted, that could impact the functioning of existing, installed apps.

How does the ban affect Chinese app providers?

The potential loss of advertising revenue impacts app-makers.

When TikTok was banned briefly in India in 2019 on the grounds that it reportedly promoted pornography, the company had told a local court that it was losing roughly $15 million a month due to the ban.

What has China’s response been to the ban?

  • China has said that it suspects India’s actions could be in violation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
  • Chinese Government said “India’s measure selectively and discriminatorily aims at certain Chinese apps on ambiguous and far-fetched grounds, runs against fair and transparent procedure requirements, abuses national security exceptions, and [is suspected] of violating the WTO rules.”
  • The Chinese government’s comments indicate that it could file a formal complaint at the WTO.

What legal options does the Indian government have?

  • In terms of process, there are two options available to the government under Section 69A of the IT Act to issue ban orders — normal and emergency.
  • In the case of the ban on the 59 apps, based on the use of the phrase “interim order” in the statement issued by TikTok, it appears that the government may have adopted the emergency route.
  • In the normal course, an order to block content requires: (a) a decision to be made by a government committee (b) relevant intermediaries to be given an opportunity to be heard by this committee.
  • The legal order that empowers the designated authority to implement the ban is yet to be made public.
  • Rule 16 of the Blocking rules requires strict confidentiality to be maintained regarding blocking requests, complaints received, and actions taken.

Can the order be challenged in an Indian court?

  • Though it is unlikely that the companies concerned may take such a step immediately, either they or any affected individual in India could challenge the blocking orders in court.
  • The courts will then decide whether the government has provided sufficient explanation as to the nexus between what these apps are alleged to be doing and the reasons adduced by the government such as protection of national security and strategic interests.
  • Courts will also consider if the ban is a proportionate and necessary step to be taken, given the facts at hand.

-Source: The Hindu

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