The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on April 3rd directed the Centre to stop downloading of mobile application TikTok. The High Court relied on submissions of the Petitioner, who reportedly claimed that the application was degrading and promoted activities that are against the law. This April 3rd Order of the High Court is not present on the website.

The Order was challenged by the Indian subsidiary of Chinese Company Bytedance before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court initially refused to change the Order of the High Court. Meanwhile, the Government of India wrote to Google and Apple, and the TikTok app was taken off the Playstore and Appstore. But, users who already had the application installed continued to use it, without any problems. Even as the app is no longer available on official stores, its .apk files are freely and easily available on the internet. Many new users have joined TikTok by downloading it directly from the web.

Now, the Supreme Court has directed the High Court to decide the ban on TikTok, after considering the submissions by Bytedance, or else the ban will no longer in force. It is rather interesting as the Madras High Court has indeed held several hearings in the case, but the ban was not lifted. But there is absolute opaqueness about proceedings in Madurai. No order of the TikTok case has been uploaded on the website. Why?

Clearly, the Government failed to enforce the ban. Importantly, it has now conceded that it may not be in a position to enforce similar bans. The Economic Times has reported a senior Ministry official as saying, “We have followed the instructions of the high court, with which both Google and Apple have complied. However, there is no way we can do anything about existing mobile app users. That matter is completely with the telecom service providers and the DoT will need to take up the matter with them.”

The telecom and cyberspace in the country is mostly controlled by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Department of Telecom and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. Often, the Ministry of Home Affairs also steps in citing the threat to national security. With each institution passing the buck to the other, the situation of enforcement is rather dismal.

It is questionable as to why no action has been taken under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. Do we not have the technical wherewithal or there is absolute lack of will?

 

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