Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Appropriate strategy: India banning more China apps

Whatever the threat from Chinese apps, India needs a better approach to tech regulation. Linking privacy issues to national security concerns is puerile.
By IASToppers
September 09, 2020

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Reason for banning
  • India’s dependence on China
  • Criticism on banning
  • Section 69A of the Information Technology Act
  • Conclusion
  • Way Forward

Appropriate strategy: India banning more China apps

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Introduction

  • The blocking of a hundred more Chinese mobile applications suggests that the Indian government wants to make it amply clear that it will not shy away from leveraging its position as a massive market for technology in dealing with potentially dangerous geopolitical issues.
  • In the latest decision, the government blocked 118 apps, including the widely popular gaming app, PUBG, as well as WeChat Work and Baidu.

Background

  • The Indian government on June 29 announced it would block 59 widely used apps, most linked to Chinese companies.
  • These include the popular video-sharing social networking app TikTok, a mobile browser called UC Browser, and a file-sharing app called SHAREit.
  • All three app has wide user base in India, with each claiming more than 100 million monthly active users, and their origins in China.

Reason for banning

  • Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology cited that “the emergent nature of threats” posed by the apps and “information available” that they are engaged in activities “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”.
  • The apps had been reported for “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India.
  • From the perspective of data security and privacy, there is indeed a strong case to be made to more strictly regulate apps that handle vast amounts of user data.

India’s dependence on China

  • India remains reliant on Chinese products in several critical and strategically sensitive sectors, from semiconductors and active pharmaceutical ingredients.
  • In telecom sector, Chinese vendors are involved in India’s 4G network and also in on-going 5G trials.

Criticism on banning

  • The government’s power under the Act would be well argued that the Indian approach should have followed due process, where the focus was on ensuring compliance with the law.
  • It would suggest the ban is less motivated by privacy concerns than about sending a message to China amid the tensions along the border.
  • Instead, the Indian response to complaints has been to straight away block these apps en masse.
  • Meanwhile, millions of Indians who were engaging with these platforms gainfully have to scramble for alternatives.
  • Loss of access to the Indian market will sharply affect the ambitions of the Internet giants emerging from China, but it remains to be seen if this tech-side intervention is effective as a counter in a geopolitical fight.
  • Chinese players are well entrenched in the global tech supply chain; it is difficult to keep away them.

Section 69A of the Information Technology Act

  • Section 69A was introduced by an amendment to the Act in 2008.
  • It gives the Central government the power to block public access to any information online — whether on websites or mobile apps.
  • Under Section 69A, if a website threatens India’s defence, its sovereignty and integrity, friendly relations with foreign countries and public order, the government can ban it.

Conclusion

  • India faces tough choices going forward in dealing with its deep economic embrace of China.
  • All this does not bode well for a country with aspirations of global leadership of tech, an industry which thrives on global networks and rules.
  • Ironically, China, which for years has unleashed widespread censorship of information and kept apps from outside off its Internet, has found a rare chance to take the moral high ground.
  • China has criticised India’s move, accusing it of “abusing the concept of national security”.

Way Forward

  • As far as its Internet regulation are concerned, India certainly needs a more considered approach to tech regulation.
  • The data protection law is a dire need in this age which is still not there in India.
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