Amidst the rising tensions with China, the Indian Government through its Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has recently banned various Chinese applications including Tik Tok, Shein, WeChat, etc., owing to ‘prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity in India, defense of India, the security of State and public order’. The Ministry of India has banned these applications by invoking its powers under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for Communications, Electronics and Information Technology and law and justice asserted that this “Digital Strike’ was done “for safety, security, defense, sovereignty &integrity of India and to protect the data and privacy of India”.
Why is the Ban Imposed?
The notification issued by the Ministry characterizes the applications which are banned as “malicious”, indicating several complaints against these applications of unauthorized transmission of user data to the servers outside India. The reasons stated are that these applications engage in activities that are prejudicial to user privacy and ultimately the sovereignty of India. However, some of the critics believe that this banning strategy comes in the backdrop of the current stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh with the Chinese troops as it will cause the largest sweep against the Chinese Technology companies.
Nonetheless, as per sources, the decision has been taken since these applications steal and surreptitiously transmit user’s data in an unauthorised manner to servers which have locations outside India. The government has also said that many people have reportedly raised concerns about data protection and privacy loss while using these apps in representations to the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In). The Ministry also said that it had issued “exhaustive recommendations” from the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre at the Home Ministry.
Positive Effects of the Ban
To safeguard the Sovereignty and integrity of India
One of the primary reasons for such notification of the banning of the applications was that these particular apps infringe the personal data and prejudice the privacy of the Indian citizens. So, the state to safeguard the interest and provide security against these evil practices undertook this step.
While referring to the ban of apps, Lieutenant General Harbhajan Singh PVSM, and former Signal officer-in-chief of the Indian Army stated that “This is a symbolism which is very important. These apps are very dangerous because the Chinese can put any bugs in the software. When you play games on your phone or on various sites, you send millions of messages to those sites and China can track where the messages are coming from, and that can cause harm to an individual and the nation as a whole.”
India as an IT Superpower
India is a big market for Chinese apps with few of them being quite popular. These include Tik Tok which had as many as 20 million users in India. On the other hand, out of the ten most downloaded apps in India, six of them are Chinese, while the other four are of US origin. India and China are definitely counted seriously among emerging powers in IT, but competitiveness, as defined by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) study is a much more complex game.
It is no longer a question of whether India has arrived in the world-wide IT marketplace, but as to whether the country can assume the leadership position in this segment and whether it can emerge as the Superpower in the global IT arena, ahead of the more experienced, mature competitors such as the USA, UK, Australia, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Ireland, and the Latin American bunch? The answer lies in the countless studies conducted by Indian and global IT industry associations, in the projections set forth by well-known business intelligence majors and global consultancy firms and in the faith vested by the Indian Government in this burgeoning sector. According to the sources, the Indian IT industry is set to achieve higher goals and cross more momentous milestones appears to be the viewpoint binding these disparate think tanks.
No longer a reliance on passive diplomacy
Through these bans, India has sent a message that it is no longer a victim of China’s Nibble and Negotiate policy and shall renew the terms of the engagement. China’s market in India may have generated just $5.8 million in revenue for the year ended March 2019, but with the rapid acceptance of users more recently, the stakes seem to be rising. According to a Reuters report, when Tik Tok was briefly banned last year in India on the grounds that it was allegedly promoting pornography, the company had told a local court that it was losing around $15 million a month because of the ban. Eventually, the App was permitted to operate.
Destruction of the dream of digital superpower
The ban imposed may affect China’s technological growth and development in the 21st century and by this blocking of Chinese apps in India, China will receive a lot of drawbacks which might destroy the ambition of China to become a Digital Superpower of the world in the 21st century.
Importance of Data privacy
India recognized the importance of the privacy of databases as in today’s time, data streams and digital technology are a new currency of global power and economy.
Issues Associated with the Ban
India’s economic dependency on China
No doubt that India is taking steps to safeguard the sovereignty and integrity of India. However, dependency and reliance on India on Chinese products in several critical and strategical sectors are still very high.
Data Privacy issues not only limited to Chinese Apps
The main concern and the reason behind this ban as provided by the government of India was that these applications hamper the data privacy by unauthorized and illegal activities but since these evil practices are not only confined to only Chinese apps, the serious problem of data security still exists.
Impact of the ban on China
For China, India is one of the main application markets which is growing and valuable which is because of cheap and accessible internet services and more consumers in India. Because of this ban procedure as adopted by the government of India, China may receive a lot of economical drawbacks. On the other hand, this ban may have stymied China’s top tech firms in what many considered to be the biggest, untapped digital market in the world. Furthermore, this ban can provide a precedent for other countries that have raised concerns about the omnipresence of apps such as TikTok and the privacy threat it poses in relation to data from their people. Meanwhile, Beijing has made veiled threats to take the matter to the World Trade Organisation, in its reaction to the ban. India and China are both WTO members and regulated by their rules that limit territorial restrictions to cross-border trade.
China’s Response to the Ban
As per sources, China stated that it suspects India’s actions can violate the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO). In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi said, “India’s selective and discriminatory measure targets some Chinese apps on vague and far-fetched grounds runs contrary to equal and clear procedural standards, abuses exceptions to national security and [is suspected] of violating WTO laws. It also runs contrary to the general trend of foreign trade and e-commerce, and is not conducive to customer preferences and India market rivalry.
The world today recognizes that one of the main sources of economic development in any country lie in the digital sector of the economy and there is no doubt that this sector can be called as the electronic backbone for the advantages that are not only useful and necessary for present times but also for future developments.
Thus, India needs to recognize the importance and strike a balance between the protection of the country’s sovereignty and integrity and the country’s growth and development in the digital sector as well. For this, India must speed up research and development and frame a desirable architecture to counter such mishappenings. Meanwhile, when TikTok was banned in India on the Madras High Court’s order last year for a few days but it came back soon after the ban was vacated by the court. However, this move is more comprehensive, affects more apps, and was taken in a particular sense of strategic and national security. It could be a message to bigger Chinese companies in India, and to China itself.
This article has been written and submitted by Ms. Arushi Lamba during her course of internship at B&B Associates LLP. Ms. Arushi is a 4th-year law student of Panjab University, Chandigarh