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[Sansad TV] Perspective: Regulating Mobile Apps

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  • Mobile apps have become a significant part of the lives of smartphone users. Almost every person seems to be dependent on them.
  • However there is a huge flipside of this flourishing mobile app environment which has become evident quite often in the recent past in cases like that of Bulli Bai App.
  • These apps were used to target women and communities.

So how do we deal with such challenges and what are the provisions in the legal framework to tackle such issues.

Bulli Bai App Controversy: A Backgrounder

  • On New Year’s Day, hundreds of Muslim women in India including journalists, social workers, and other prominent personalities found their images and derogatory content about them on a new app called “Bulli Bai”.
  • The app, created on hosting platform Github, offered an online “auction” of women.
  • It derives its name from the derogatory term used for women of a particular community.

A critical case of abuse

  • The app is clearly an example of online trolling where the dignity and modesty of a woman is highly downgraded.
  • This has not been the very first time. Earlier, no arrests were ever made showing Police inaction.
  • The authorities were using the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) to obtain information about the creators of such apps from California-based GitHub.

Why is it a cause of worry?

  • Large user-base: There are about 40 crore internet users and about 25 crore social media users in India.
  • Behavioral impact: Apart from having a huge impact on the life of people, the apps also influence how a person thinks, behaves, or perceives.
  • Lack of regulatory framework: India currently does not have a dedicated legal framework to govern mobile applications.
  • No self regulations: There is no government or self guidelines currently in place in India, regulating the apps.

Legal provisions against such Crimes

For making arrests, the police have invoked Sections 153A, 153B, 295A, 354D, 500 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act.

  • Section 153A pertains to the offence of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony
  • Section 153B relates to imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration
  • Section 295A provides punishment for deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings
  • Section 354D provides that any man who monitors the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication with malintent, commits the offence of stalking.
  • Section 500 defines the punishment for defamation
  • Section 509 addresses the offence of word, gesture or act intended insulting the modesty of a woman
  • Section 67 of the IT Act lays down the punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form

What are the other provisions related to cybercrimes?

  • Section 66E of the IT Act prescribes punishment for violation of privacy.
  • IPC sections 354A (sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment) and 354C (voyeurism) of the IPC were introduced along with sections 354B and 354D in 2013.

Threats posed by such apps

  • Foreign scams: These apps are run by scammers in Pakistan and China.
  • Money laundering: More than 40,000 crore hawala transactions took place in India through the distribution of instant loans.
  • Espionage: Mobile apps which are being operated by India’s hostile countries were also used for espionage.
  • Online betting: There are also gaming and betting apps that are currently being used extensively by mobile users in India.
  • Revenue bypass: PUBG (though a banned) gaming app reportedly raised a profit of 2500 crores functioning in India but did not pay any taxes in India.

Psycho-social impacts

  • These applications pose challenges such as addiction and induce violent behavior among children.
  • There are also examples of apps being used to promote hate crime and hate speeches as recently seen in the case of the Bulli Bai app.

Need for Regulations

  • No legal liability on intermediaries: The intermediaries are not liable for any third-party data or communication link hosted or stored on their platforms.
  • Inadequacy of cyber laws: Despite having provisions that address mobile applications, the entire aspect of regulating the affairs of mobile applications has not been defined or adequately dealt with under the Indian cyber laws.
  • Lack of holistic approach: The existing regulations hence do not cover the holistic challenges that are posed by the mobile applications and are to be updated and regulated to tackle the current challenges.

Way Forward

  • There is a need for a comprehensive umbrella IT Law that needs to be proactive and be reviewed from time to time to check the new challenges posed by the technology.
  • The available laws should be enforced in a stringent manner and strict actions should be taken against any violations.
  • Industry interventions should also be allowed in the implementation of the policies to make them dynamic and compliant with economic interests.
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