Copyright © 2020 - Ex Gratia Law Journal

The Digital War- Ban on Chinese Apps

1. INTRODUCTION:

India and China have been in conflicts from the early 60s which lead to the Indo – China war which resulted in a huge loss of lives and property. The Indian army was defeated by the Chinese troops and various military reforms were taken aftermath of the war. After the Indo – China war, the diplomatic and trade relations were co-ordinal between the nations. In the early 90s, the two sides signed the Sino – Indian Bilateral Peace and Tranquility Accords, which is an agreement made by the nations to maintain peace and harmony along the Line of Actual Control ( LoAC ). Later, many instances lead to face-offs between the troops but they were resolved. The recent incident in the Galwan Valley leads to higher tensions and there was a higher possibility of war between the nations. Twenty brave hearts were martyred in the incident and the Indian army retaliated causing higher causalities in the Chinese troops. 

2. REASONS FOR GALWAN INCIDENT:

The reason for this violent clash is India’s policy regarding Jammu and Kashmir. The repeal of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and autonomy to the state is considered as one of the reasons for clash. Further disputed areas in the Ladakh region were included in the state.  It was very evident when China moved a resolution in the United Nations Security Council along with Pakistan to denounce the act done by India. The main reason for the deadly clash was due to advancement of infrastructure activities carried by the Indian side in the border and disputed areas.  India opened up a 158-mile Darbuk – Shyok – Daulat – Beg Oldie road along the border which triggered the Chinese troops.  The Chinese ministry claims that the particular region belongs to China’s economic corridor connecting Pakistan and the Central part of China via Karakonam which is situated near the Galwan valley. Further the Valley is situated near Akshai Chin Plateau which is occupied by China but claimed by India.

3. BAN ON CHINESE APPS

The government of India banned 59 mobile applications stating that these apps pose threat to the sovereignty and security of the nation. Government of India made a statement that these apps which are owned and developed by Chinese developers carry a great risk which might affect the security and integrity of India. The apps include popular social media platforms like TikTok, Helo and WeChat, and many utility and browser applications like Camscanner and UC browser. The government is authorized to ban applications and websites under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.  The section empowers the government to provide guidelines and directions to block data for public access through any computer source. The government also referred to the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009. The Indian government made allegations stating that the data of the users of the applications were obtained and transferred outside without authorization and permission. The data and other essential information are transferred which cause great endangerment to security and harmony of the nation. Officials stated that there were many instances these applications violated the privacy policy. The Ministry of Information Technology and Electronics specified that these apps were continuously involved in data theft and transmitting the user information outside Indian servers. This is considered as a serious danger to the integrity further it was stated that Chinese servers have tried to crack information from the users.

4. ECONOMIC ASPECT:

It was observed that TikTok garnered a whopping $3 billion profit in the financial year 2019 on $17 billion of revenue.[1] India contributed 44% of company’s overall profit and one of the prime markets for the Chinese developer. India records the highest spike of downloads estimating to 611 million downloads. Tiktok holds highest number of users from India and greatest market for the Chinese digital typhoon ByteDance.[2] The government also stated that ban on these apps have an economic aspect and it provides a platform for indigenous developers to develop similar applications and generate revenue. India contributes the maximum profit to these companies. Ban on these apps have a greater financial strain on Chinese companies and there will a vacuum in their profits. It is estimated that around Rs 4500 crore losses will be sustained by the Chinese company due to ban of this app in India. It will be a highest drip in the revenue generated by the company due to ban in India. The government of India is inviting the indigenous developers to develop the applications which are banned. It provides a platform for the native developers to develop apps and further generate revenue within the territory of the country.

5. LEGALITY REGARDING BAN ON THESE APPLICATIONS:

The ministry of IT stated that the ban was under the provisions of the Information Technology Act, 2005. The ministry also stated that it follows the procedures prescribed under Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009. Rule 9 of the procedure clearly states that can site can be blocked under the ambit of Sec 62 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. The provision authorizes the designated authority or Central government to block sites to public access which affects the security or integrity of the state.  Rule 9 empowers the Secretary of Department of Information Technology to make an interim order and not a permanent order. The interim measure must be referred to a committee and only based on the recommendations issued by the committee, the ban stays valid. The ministry of IT has to prove that the ban is due to infringement in the security of the country and further the essential conditions stated under section 69 A have to be proven. The interim measure must be sent to the review of an expert committee within 48 hours.[3]The committee has to decide the ban within seven working days and the application developers have to present their opinions within 48 hours to the committee from the day of notice. The committee will review the policies and statements made by the ministry and developers to conclude. The ban will be based on the observations and recommendations made by the committee. The ministry of IT has to prove that these apps have violated:

  1. Sovereignty and integrity of India defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order.[4]
  2. Privacy policy of the users.
  3. Unauthorized collection of data and information from the users.
  4. Involved in data theft and unauthorized transfer of user information and data to other servers apart from India.

The developers of these apps have to prove that they have not violated the privacy policy and not involved in activities affecting the security and sovereignty of the country. Further they have to prove that they have not involved in data theft and unauthorized transfer of data to servers located outside India. The ban is temporary and solution is based only on the recommendations made by the committee.

6. OTHER ESSENTIAL CONCERNS:

Chinese digital companies have a lion share in the Indian market. The Chinese smart phones and electronic companies continue to dominate the Indian digital market leaving other competitors behind.  Around 67% of smart phones sold in India are Chinese tech companies. The Chinese tech big shot Xiaomi has sold around 500 million smart phones in India and making them the biggest seller of smart phones in the Indian market.[5]Xiaomi has a large share of the Indian Smartphone market and One-plus, another Chinese tech giant holds 45% of premium Smartphone sales in India. It is inevitable to keep Chinese tech players outside the Indian market. Digital experts have raised concerns regarding the domination of Chinese products in the Indian market and their threats to security and integrity. Experts also claim that the national security and integrity can also be affected with handsets. The government has not issued any guidelines regarding this aspect. The ministry also failed to consider this particular possibility. IT experts have stated that these handsets possess more threat than applications. The ministry of IT has to consider this particular aspect to safeguard the security of the country. It was also observed that apart from these 59 banned applications, there are a lot of other applications that are involved in data theft and transfer of information earlier but no steps were taken regarding those applications. Facebook, popular social media faced a data breach that affected half a million Facebook users in India when their data was leaked and affected the privacy policy of the users.[6] Similarly, Whatsapp, a subsidiary company of Facebook involved in data breach[7] but no ban on these apps were initiated. The real question that clamours around people is that the ban on these applications for security purposes or a retaliation to the attack made by the Chinese troops.  

7. CONCLUSION:

It was a great move made by the Indian government to ban these apps which pose a great threat to the security and sovereignty of our country but still, there is lot of other concerns which has to be taken into consideration like wide market space held by the Chinese smart phone companies in India. Indian developers must be motivated and encouraged to develop similar applications and proper infrastructure must be provided by the government to enhance productivity. India has to develop its cyber security operations and internal cyber systems have to be well protected. India must take more diplomatic and political moves to curb the Chinese government. The revenue generated to Chinese companies from India has to be stopped and indigenous tech companies must be promoted. The effects of this ban can be ascertained only in the long run and India has already started its cyber war against China.


[1]Katie Roof and Zheping Huang, ByteDance Hit $3 Billion in Net Profit Last Year, (May 27, 2020, 10:00 AM <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-27/bytedance-is-said-to-hit-3-billion-in-profit-as-revenue-doubles.>

[2]AnkitaChakravarthi,  Tik-Tok garners over 2 million downloads, (April 30, 2020 , 02:10PM ) <https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/news/story/tiktok-garners-over-2-billion-downloads-india-tops-the-chart-with-611-million-downloads-1672833-2020-04-30.>

[3]Rule 9 of Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009.

[4]The Information Technology Act, 2000, Sec 62A.

[5]ShivaniAnand, India smartphone ships record 46.6 million units, (November 11, 2019), <https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prAP45640019.>

[6]Times of India, Half a million Indian Facebook users may be affected in data breach, (April 5,,2018,23:05 IST) ,<https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/over-half-a-million-indian-facebook-users-may-have-been-affected-in-data-breach/articleshow/63625675.cms.>

[7]SurabhiAgarwal, Whatsapp admits it could have handled data breach better, (November 21,2019, 09:08 IST),<https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/whatsapp-admits-it-couldve-handled-data-breach-better/articleshow/72153091.cms?from=mdr.>

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Author

Sundaresan S
Student - SASTRA Deemed to be University