Recently India witnessed various developments like that of the clash between the Indian and the Chinese forces on the Ladakh border. The violent face-off between the troops on the 15th of June which left 20 Indian soldiers dead. This pressed the Indian government to impose a ban on 59 Chinese origin apps on 29th June 2020. Reasons such as data security and national sovereignty were cited by the government while imposing the ban. Such apps included some of the extensively used ones like- TikTok, CamScanner, Helo, Club Factory, SHAREIt, WeChat, etc.
The prime reason for the ban on these apps was stated in the following manner. In one of the press releases, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asserted the following. “Many complaints have been received from various sources stating the misuse of mobile applications both on Android and IOS platforms“. Stealing and clandestine transfer of users’ data were among the major concerns raised. This data was being unauthorisedly transferred to servers outside India.
Chinese Apps a Threat to India’s Sovereignty and Privacy?
Reactive policy-making comes out to be one of the worst kinds of policymaking. It tends to hurt the users more than the actual target. If Chinese apps have been posing a threat to India’s sovereignty, defence, and privacy they ought to have been banned long ago. This move shouldn’t have rather come as an optics game. It barely changes India’s substantive position with respect to China.
There needs to be reasoning and continuity when it comes to economic and technological policies. This allows businesses and individuals to invest and build. It may even be a factory relying on Chinese inputs or be it a rural social media entrepreneur who has invested in apps like TikTok. Whenever such efforts are wasted, it is the Indian capital, money, or time that is wasted. This acts as a big blow to such entrepreneurs. Each time the central government comes up with a masterstroke, it is difficult for these enterprises to rebuild from the start.
At the same time, if the Chinese money acts as a threat the fascist-nationalist news channels would be wrong on their part in running Chinese advertising spends. Although this part is not directly a fault of theirs.
Section 69A of IT Act: How has it been Used?
Section 69A of the Information technology Act, 2000 was introduced by an amendment to the Act in 2008. This Act bestows power on the central government to block public access to any kind of information that is online. It may either be websites or any kind of mobile application. Whenever there arises a threat to India’s sovereignty, friendly relations with other nations, integrity, or public order, then under Section 69A of the IT Act, the government has the right to impose a ban on such applications. While doing so a due procedure should be followed by the government. Apart from the central government, even the court has the rights to issue directions in order to block information which is being circulated online. Other than this, even the department of telecommunication has the right to pass orders blocking internet service providers. Section 69A of the IT Act makes way for all such developments.
Analyzing China’s say in the ban, it can be stated that oversight of online information acts as a common feature in the legal arena in most countries. India is no exception to the same. Whereas China’s digital sphere doesn’t offer any kind of scope for judicial review. In contrast to this, India offers recourse to the aggrieved parties. The aggrieved party has a right to judicial recourse. It was held by the apex court of India in the case of Shreya Singhal that blocking orders can be challenged. Article 226 of the Indian Constitution allows the challenge of the blocking order. This process established by the law is also subject to judicial scrutiny which marks the distinction between India and the People’s Republic of China.
Digital Colonialism: Is China Right in banning all the apps in its own country?
An important point to be pondered here is that China launches a large number of apps throughout the world. But at the same time, Chinese citizens don’t have access to these apps. The whole world has access to these apps but the Chinese citizens. China doesn’t have access to a large number of apps like that of Facebook, Instagram, etc. The Chinese government has imposed a ban on all these apps. So now, when we are discussing India’s ban affecting the country’s economy and employment, we also need to take a step back and think about how big an opportunity this poses to all the skilled labour in India.
Till date, there was no need to come up with startups in India as these apps were already available. But now with the ban being imposed on these apps, people will start coming up with new initiatives. These initiatives would include programming for new apps and companies. This can be seen as a huge hit India will receive. This step can even be seen as the risk which the government took up which will help the country at large. This can be seen as an opportunity to become self-reliant.
Looking at the Flip Side: Good products are Created Through Competition Not by Banning Competition
Taking forward the above-mentioned discussion, we need to analyze how self-reliant India would be by banning these apps. Foreign applications tend to take up payments and value of Indian data out of the country’s economy. This is an important aspect to think about, but it is not that easy. As already stated above, good products are created by way of competition and not by imposing a ban on the competition. Following the same fashion as China, if India imposes a ban on Facebook, Instagram, etc,. which actually take up more value from India. Then Indians would be forced to use some indigenous apps which would mostly be associated with Jio or which would have enough cronyism between the government and Reliance.
This would result in people having less equality, less choice, and fewer privacy rights. But in the end, the application or the product will tend to be “nationalist”. If this is what we are looking forward to, then India imposing a ban on these apps would be concluded as a correct move.
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