In a recent decision, the Government of India banned 59 Chinese Applications under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 read with relevant provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009. This ban was imposed as an interim measure on the ground that the concerned applications were “engaged in activities which are prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.” In lieu of this imposition, the Technology Law Forum of NALSAR University of Law (“Forum”) authored a letter to Shri Ajay Prakash Sawhney (Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology) on 6 July 2020, expressing concerns and seeking clarifications about the ban.
Firstly, the Forum asserted that the power under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act and its corresponding Rules is meant to be exercised for imposing content-based restrictions on the internet, and not for sweeping bans on entire applications. Secondly, the Forum pointed out that the Government had failed to make public a reasoned order justifying how the ban was reasonable and proportionate under Article 19 of the Constitution. Thirdly, the Forum noted that while some of the banned applications like TikTok and Weibo did have data protection and privacy concerns, others like Kwai did not have any such concerns or history of data leaks. To this end, it noted that a sweeping ban was arbitrary, more so in the absence of any data protection law supporting it. Fourthly, the Forum called upon the Government to clarify whether the ban was imposed under the exception framework of the GATT or the GATS, and to demonstrate how this ban was non-discriminatory under international law. Lastly, the Forum pointed out that many of the banned applications such as TikTok and Kwai were extremely popular in India’s semi-urban and rural areas, serving as a much-needed outlet of self-expression and source of income for marginalised communities. Accordingly, the Forum requested the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to consult with deprived user-stakeholders before arriving at the final decision.