On 29 June 2020, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeIT) banned 59 Chinese Apps including Tiktok, WeChat, Helo, Beauty Cam, Shein, Shareit, Clash of Kings, Kwai etc. The ban was imposed on a wide variety of mobile applications which served E-Commerce, News, Video Content, Utility Apps etc. backed by various large Chinese Technology companies.
It is interesting to note that the Indian Government’s press release does not explicitly mention the term ‘Chinese Apps’ but all the applications so listed are wholly owned by Chinese companies. The ban has been implemented due to tensions between the Indo-China border. Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Minister for Electronics and Information Technology stated that the ban is called a ‘digital strike’ against China. Press reports suggest that MeIT was concerned regarding the ‘Level of Access’ these Chinese firms and companies have through the apps of an Indian user which results in their violation of privacy. The Indian Government’s major concern was with regard to National Intelligence Law provisions which allowed the Chinese Government to require their companies to collaborate with intelligence services and law enforcement.
REGULATORY BASIS OF BAN
The ban has been imposed and issued as per section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 r/w the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009. Through these provisions, the Government can ban public access to any information which is generated, transmitted, stored or received through any computer resource where it has been satisfied that it is necessary or expedient to do so in interest, inter alia, to maintain the sovereignty and integrity of the nation. Though the Government is not in public domain, it has been issued for safety and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace and safety of crores of Indian mobile and Internet users. The ban has been implemented for the following reasons:
- Such Apps were prejudicial to India’s public order, sovereignty, integrity, defence and security.
- Various sources complained regarding stealing or transmission of information in an unauthorized manner.
- It has been regarded as a matter of deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures.
- The Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre recommended blocking of such ‘malicious apps’.
- The Computer Emergency Response Team received issues regarding breach of privacy and security of data causing a negative impact to public order.
- The raging concerns causing threat to data security and safeguarding the privacy of Indian Citizens.
It is a matter of great importance to ban such apps since India does not have a single law for the protection of personal information. The provisions as per Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures & sensitive personal data or Information) Rules, 2011 are also quite inadequate to address such complex data protection related to such apps. Henceforth, there is a severe gap between the law when it comes to the collection and processing of data by such Chinese applications. This issue shall have a huge impact on businesses and quite specifically, the matters or evidence that the Government has relied on to pass this order.
The Government has in various occasions expressed its concern towards data protection towards servers outside India. In certain businesses (like payment service providers in respect of payments data and telecom companies with respect to user data), there has been no general obligation on businesses operating in India to maintain data in India itself. With regard to the Personal data protection Bill, 2019, it only proposes the critical personal data to be stored in India itself. However, by downloading these apps, the users grant the information to be stored outside India and the Government’s decision shall have a severe impact on businesses.
It is an interim order passed in an emergency and the final order shall be passed in accordance with Information Technology Act, 2000. The Government shall set up an inter-ministerial committee to inquire about the data sharing practices of Chinese Apps. The banned apps shall be given an opportunity to represent and explain themselves on privacy and security issues. TikTok is the only app which has formally denied the media reports and challenged the order. China has strongly condemned the ban on grounds that it runs against fair and transparent procedure, violates national security exceptions and suspects violation of WTO rules and regulations. The United States has also supported this decision of Indian Government stating it as ‘clean-app approach’. There has no specific action from the Chinese Government in such relation and we shall witness how this ‘digital strikes’ such be addressed between the two nations.