Amid significantly changing geo-political & geo-strategic panorama due to COVID viral surgical strike putting check on the global physical interconnectedness within successive lock downs & unlocks, not only the world, but also, the two most populous nations & emerging Asian global powers i.e. People’s Republic of China & Republic of India locked their horns post violent boundary face off/ Galwan boundary brawl in mid-June 2020. In the ongoing conundrum, one of the largest digitally strengthen nation India popularly symbolized as the Elephant, has formally registered first of its kind of digital or virtual surgical strike against the daring Dragon while, banning an application set of 59 software applications having Chinese interlinking or source.
Entering into banning framework
The Union Ministry of Electronic & Information Technology (MeITY) has banned 59 Chinese mobile software applications primarily, in conformity with, the Section 69 A of the legislative bedrock of India’s digital/virtual/online edifice i.e. the Information Technology Act,2000 & along with appropriate provisions of the Information Technology (Procedure & Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009. Section 69 A enumerates with the Power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource:
(1) Where the Union Government or any of its officers specially authorized by it in this behalf is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above, it may subject to the provisions of sub-section (2), for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order, direct any agency of the Government or intermediary to block for access by the public or cause to be blocked for access by the public any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource.
(3) The procedure and safeguards subject to which such blocking for access by the public may be carried out shall be such as may be prescribed. (3) The intermediary who fails to comply with the direction issued under sub-section (1) shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and also be liable to fine.
Retrieving the locus & focus of the digital surgical strike
For the last couple of years, India’s increased focus upon IT/ITeS domains, which further got catalytic acceleratory wings amid policy boosters like Digital India, turning ‘digital divide’ into ‘digital dividend’ & others similar steps have holistically assisted to put it into an elite club of leading digital innovator as well as primary market in the digital space.
Nevertheless, the positive sides of India’s digitalization have also been embedded with some primary teething issues say aspects of data security, robust frameworks & safeguarding the privacies of more than 1.33 Billion Indian Citizens. In the backdrop of this present digital surgical operation, inputs received to Government of India through some prominent input agencies or sources have also played striking roles. These sources primarily includes following: the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) under the MeITY which is also the nodal agency to deal with cyber security threats like hacking & phishing & to strengthen security-related defence of the India’s Internet Panorama. These official catalytic channels have been also supplemented by the strong chorus in the civil society, India’s Netizens (or Citizen of Net), & public spaces to put a stringent retaliatory measures against Apps which are acting as a threat in multifaceted locus for Indian citizens at large.
These susceptive loci involves digital dilemma like misuse of user’s data & private information by some Android & iOS applications & surreptitiously transmission in an unauthorized manner to location outside India, and data compilation, data mining & data profiling by elements hostile to India’s national security & defence is nothing but, an ultimate impinge upon its sovereign & integral status. And, there has been an urgent need of this kind of digital surgical strikes now & even in near future.
Reactions, Recommendations & Future
As per the recent statistics of the MHA, there have been almost 300 million unique Indian users out of approximately 450 million smart phone users, who use Chinese internet applications. This present virtual surgical strike against Dragon digital clutch has been welcomed by the domestic IT/ITeS application manufacturing firms as a move towards facilitating Indian start up environment. Founders of popular Indian app like Roposo & Bolo Indya (rivals of Tik Tok) welcomed the very virtual surgical move by the Government reiterating this as an opportunity before Indian digital firms while keeping India’s culture/ value system, data security & privacy of Indians as the topmost prerogatives.
Tech Pundits or analysts also supported the digital strike as a well sound legal decision as well conducive from tactical perspective, as these bulk Chinese apps were heavily dependent upon Indian markets & users. This virtual strike will mount economic & trade pressure upon Chinese application developers/owners. The same was also highlighted and regularly talked by famous Indian Social entrepreneur & reformer from Ladkah, Sonam Wangchuk in present Sino-Indo conundrum as a step to affect the Chinese economic interest a lot. However, the dependence of large chunk of Indian youths upon some popular Chinese application as time pass activity as well as small earning is definitely going to be affected in a smaller run which can be overcome by allowing innovation & Aatmanirbharta/ Self Reliant in this digital domain also. And, likewise all the previous policies implementation at ground matters a lot even in this.
(Authors are Institutionally Affiliated to Indian Institute of Public Administration, Think Tank & Training Institution of the Ministry of Personnel, GoI, &New Delhi)