Ban on Chinese Apps in India
India and China, being two major regional powers in Asia have a bilateral relationship which has varied over time due to certain obvious discrepancies in economic cooperation between the respective countries. However, the ongoing Sino-Indian territorial dispute has escalated the brawl between the two countries, somewhat jeopardizing their relations. Diplomatic ties between India and China has led to mutual trade growth. The economic interdependence between them is fairly deep-rooted. The Indian markets in a short span of time are expected to find a replacement in a cost-effective way, filling the void the Chinese boycott has created. Citing the India-China face off at the Galwan valley, the Government of India banned 59 Chinese mobile applications to counter the threat that was prejudicial in nature to the integrity, sovereignty and defense of India.1
RELATIONS BETWEEN INDIA AND CHINA
To say that the relations between India and China have been unpleasant since late April of this year is a big understatement. The two countries have had a rocky relationship since the Indian Army and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) got into a clash on June 15th 2020, in the Galwan Valley, 2, along the LAC which led to the death of 20 Indian soldiers including a commanding officer and an undisclosed number of soldiers on the Chinese side.
The Line of Actual Control (LAC) is a border demarcation line that separates the territories that are controlled by India and China. This is unchartered territory and has been a disputed area since the Sino-Indian war in 1962 when Chinese troops invaded into the Indian territory along the 3,225 kilometer- (2,000-mile-) long Himalayan border in Ladakh and across the McMahon Line. The war ended on 20th November 1962, when China declared a ceasefire and announced its withdrawal to its "claimed" LAC. Since then, the LAC has altered.
Objecting to a road being constructed by India, Chinese troops closed in on Finger 2 of Pangong Tso and blocked movement forward. China deployed additional troops which resulted in India carrying out a mirror deployment of troops, in fact, more. Local-level commander (of equivalent ranks) meetings involving both the armies were held to de-escalate the issue and after several meetings, it was agreed upon to withdraw the troops and abide by the agreements in place. However, the diplomatic talks went down the drain when one of the PLA's patrol party refused to back off despite being ordered to stand down after the de-escalation talks were held. This resulted in a violent face-off with the Chinese soldiers as they had ambushed3 us.
LEGALITY OF THE APP BAN
It is common knowledge now that the Government of India, by dint of the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology has banned 59 mobile applications, primarily Chinese by invoking Sec 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 along with certain relevant statutory provisions of the Information Technology Rules, 2009. Sec 69A (1) guarantees the Central Government of India the power to authorize/sanction the blocking of information generated, transmitted, received, stored or even hosted in any computer resource, if found sabotaging the sovereignty and integrity of India, the Defense and security of the state etc.
An upsurge of violence between the two nations, with increasing levels of tension has been one of the substantial reasons cited by the Secretary of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology for invoking the Emergency Procedure on the App ban. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court of India laid down in the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, 4, that the order, so requesting for a ban on computer resources, must be backed by reasons in favor of the same. Even in circumstances demanding an Emergency Procedure to be followed, a pre-decisional hearing is considered essential to restrict the exploitation of powers of the government. Hence, passing of an order might as well invite trouble by way of Article 226 of the Indian Constitution, challenging the grounds for such request, if the parties involved are not given a pre-decisional hearing. If the above guidelines are not adhered to, the parties can then claim relief for the same.
Therefore, the Government of India in order to demonstrate the necessity of this ban, would have to prove beyond reasonable doubt, that the said objective could have been close to impossible, making this restriction the most feasible option. The Kerala High Court in the Fahreena Shirin v. State of Kerala, 5, held that to impede with a person's access to the internet is considered to be a fundamental violation of their right to privacy. This becomes significant in assessing the effectiveness of the ban and its legality. Nevertheless, in the case of Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India & Ors, 6, the Supreme Court of India ascertained that Section 69A of the Information Technology Act read with the Information Technology Rules grants power to the Indian Government to impose tapered curtailment on the access to web consent. However, the above arguments pose as mere suggestions as to how the Central Government could have taken less stringent measures to curb the issues of national security.
One may wonder how banning apps would be helpful. This step was extremely imperative and was taken at a crucial moment when tensions between India and China were hitting sky high. There is plausible evidence that these apps were stealing data from the users which pose an unavoidable factor to ban them since they are detrimental to the defense of our country as well as security of the state and public order. Will the ban of a popular app such as Tik Tok affect the livelihood of some? Indeed, it will. It had more than 100 million active users and was a source of income for many users. But at the end of the day, national security comes above everything else. There cannot be any compromise. Alternate apps can be found and this will also help boost the Make in India program.
CONSEQUENCES OF THE APP BAN
According to a report, Indians spent close to 5.5 billion hours on Tik Tok in 2019 alone. India has been the biggest driver of TikTok installs, and out of the two billion downloads – 611 million are from this country.7 According to a report, six of the top 10 most downloaded apps in India were from Chinese companies.8 The above findings not only reflect the popularity of the app, but also high levels of dependence on the app for entertainment purposes, more of an obsession rather than sheer dependence. We must also bear in mind that these social networking apps that stand to be banned, have been a source of livelihood for millions.
Unemployment can also be an issue of concern as many of these apps have their offices established here in India and employees in India, at the minimum, a few thousand jobs could be at stake. Therefore, requisite measures must be taken to simultaneously develop alternative mobile applications preferably more advanced ones, in order to have all Indians experience the quality of technology and eventually to achieve the goal of self-reliance and ultimately, with time, self-sufficiency.
Amidst growing concerns recommendations,9, the intelligence agencies to block the use of these apps were taken vigorously by the Government of India. If banning these apps would help our armed forces and proves to be futile, then it is the least a common citizen can do.
Section 69A of Information Technology Act, 2000.
Surabhi Shaurya, June 30, 2020 www.india.com
Shiv Aroor, June 30, 2020 https://www.indiatoday.in
(2013) 12 S.C.C 73.
WP © No. 19716 2019 (L)
[ WP © 1031/2019 ]
Paulson Institute’s Macropolo think tank, April https://macropolo.org
Tasneem Akolawala, April 30, 2020 www.gadgets.ndtv.com
Swarajya Staff, June 29, 2020 https://swarajyamag.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This blog has been authored by Anusha Sushena & Harshitha Jayavel, both 3rd Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) students at M.S. Ramaiah College of Law, Bangalore.
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