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Banning Chinese Apps – Internet Freedom Vs National security

Banning Chinese Apps – Internet Freedom Vs National security

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.

In news:

Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, WeChat, and UC Browser, it did so through the powers of one law.

The government said that these apps were banned under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 because “they are engaged in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.”

What is Section 69A?

Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, 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, after following due procedure.

The detailed procedures to do so are listed under the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009.

Apart from this, a court may also issue directions for blocking information online.

The Department of Telecommunications, too, can issue blocking orders to internet service providers, to enforce licensing conditions.

  • Procedure and safeguards:
    In its 2015 judgment in the landmark Shreya Singhal v/s Union of India case, the Supreme Court of India upheld the validity of Section 69Aand the extant blocking procedures.
  • The court said that the law was constitutional and a website could be blocked only on the basis of reasoned order.
  • The Supreme Court also emphasised that the law has sufficient safeguards under which the order can only be issued with the committee’s approval to block a websiteafter it has heard the aggrieved party.
  • As mentioned in the Rules, in all cases, whether emergency or not, the reasons to block the website have to be recorded in writing.
  • Section 69A [of the Information Technology Act], which has been used, is not a new power that the government is commandeering during a time of national security emergency.
  • It must be a genuine national security risk,and the necessity of blocking the app must be very clearly made out by the government.
  • The challenge in this particular situation is that the blocking of an entire service and app by the Indian government is a remarkable and a rather extraordinary step.

Section 69(A) – Analysis:

  • Section 69A has a limited set of defined grounds under which the government can take action.
  • Those are often wide grounds, including security of the state .
  • Over the last few years, the Union Government as well as several State governments have taken very wide views of the act.
  • However, Data protection isn’t covered under section 69(A).
  • Actions taken by other nations is under a data protection framework where they investigate the entity, see whether other mechanisms could be followed (orders, fines etc).
  • Ultimately, Section 69A is a censorship power, one that is not well designed to protect people’s rights. It is intended towards national security as a whole.

Divulging the basis of the decision:

  • Currently, when the Government of India issues blocking orders under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, it asserts secrecy and confidentiality in those orders.
  • The government should stop asserting that privilege, so that the public indeed knows what is being blocked and for what reason.
  • The Supreme Court in the issue of Internet shutdowns in the Anuradha Bhasin judgment said very clearly that any order blocking people’s rights to liberty, especially in relation to the Internet, requires to be published.

Internet rights:

  • India is a constitutional democracy.
  • It is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Under this there is a certain basic understanding that regulation of the Internet or Internet-based servicesby governments has to respect basic human rights standards.
  • For a government to block service or to block any access to content or take other coercive steps that may intrude upon people’s fundamental rights and freedoms, it has to follow what in international law is often called the three-part test.
  • That requires action that is very clear
  • That could not have been done by a less intrusive means
  • That follows standards of necessity and proportionality.

India, it is very clear that our fundamental right to free speech and expression applies to online content (too).

Way forward:

It can also undertake broader reforms, as well as a review some procedures of Section 69A itself.

Cybersecurity needs to be strengthened. Also, there is a need to protect the data complaince mechanism. Creation of a data protection regime is necessary.

Finally, a balance between Internet rights and national security have to be found.

Source:” The Hindu“.

POSSIBLE UPSC CSE MAINS QUESTION:

There is a need to attain a balance between Internet rights and National security. Analyse in light of the recent ban on Chinese apps using section 69(A) of the Information Technology Act.