Mar 11, 2022

Understanding the government ban on Chinese apps

The government recently banned 118 applications, including popular ones such as PUBG, WeChat Work, Rise of Kingdoms: Lost Crusade and Alipay. Earlier in June, the government had banned 59 applications such as TikTok, Shareit, Mi Video Call, and Cam Scanner. Most of the banned applications are Chinese, and the ban comes at a time of rising border tensions between India and China.

The reason and legal basis behind the ban

To impose the ban, the government relied on Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Under this provision, the government can block public access to information from any computer resource, including data or software. The government can do this if it believes that this is necessary for any of the following reasons: 

  • sovereignty and integrity of India 
  • defence of India 
  • security of the country 
  • friendly relations with foreign countries 
  • public order 
  • preventing the instigation of an offence related to the reasons given above

In this case, the Government said that the ban was imposed because the applications are engaged in activities that threaten national security, sovereignty and public order.

Blocking public access under Section 69A

In Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the Supreme Court discussed whether Section 69A is a violation of the constitutional freedom of speech and expression. In its judgement, the Court said that even the freedom of speech and expression has certain reasonable restrictions, and upheld the validity of Section 69A. The Court said that Section 69A has several safeguards. Blocking can only happen when the government thinks that it is necessary to do so for certain reasons. Further, the reasons for blocking have to be recorded in writing in the government’s blocking order. The blocking order can also be challenged before the Court.

There are certain procedural safeguards that have to be followed while blocking access. These are given in the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009.

Consequences of the ban

Due to the ban, Intermediaries like Google and Apple who provide these applications will now have to remove the banned applications from their respective “app stores”. Any intermediary which fails to comply with the ban can be punished with imprisonment for up to seven years and a fine. Only the intermediary has a responsibility under Section 69A and can be punished under this law. 

However, simply using or accessing the applications is not illegal, and people who merely use these applications cannot be punished for breaking the law.

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