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DIALOGUE FOR CHANGE

TikTok Underlines Need For Data Protection Bill

India needs to set up a grievance redressal mechanism for all the social media applications.

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TikTok is a new social media trend amongst youngsters. This app showcases self-made videos from anywhere and about everything, from comedy to lip-syncs and cook recipes to personal grooming tips that users create and share to gain likes and followers. In India alone, there has been a record download of about 466.8 million. This quirky and funny app has hooked youngsters around the world.

However, what is worrisome is the lack of understanding about the long-term implications of such social media apps with regard to data protection and national security.

Origin of TikTok:


Zhang Yiming, the founder of TikTok, was a Microsoft engineer and Chinese entrepreneur who first set up a company called ByteDance in 2012 to carry forward his ambition of running a global company. Bytedance was ranked as one of China’s top tech companies in 2018.

Following the launch of ByteDance, Zhang launched a mobile app called Toutiao or Jinri Tautiao ‘today’s headline,’ an artificial intelligence (AI) enabled newsfeed that caters to the likes and dislikes of the users.

In 2016, he developed a video sharing app called Douyin ‘shaking sound’ for the Chinese market. The global equivalent of the same app, called TikTok, was launched in 2017. It has since gained immense popularity. This was soon followed by the acquisition of another video-sharing app based in Shanghai, called Musical.ly.


The idea was to blend “TikTok’s AI-fed streams and monetisation track record with Musical.ly’s product innovation and grasp of users’ needs and tastes in the West.” This simultaneously increased the user base as well as the profit margin for the TikTok App.

TikTok overtook Facebook as the most downloaded social networking application globally in the first quarter of 2019.

In India, both Facebook and Twitter saw a market shrink as Tiktok saw a sharp surge. Tiktok’s reach in India rose from 1.12 per cent in January 2018 to 28 per cent in August this year. Even in terms of monthly active users and amount of time spent per day, Tiktok saw an exponential increase as compared to other social media applications.

Prevalent Concerns:

With more than 200 million active users, the app has found considerable popularity among the Indian youth. This 15-second video-making application is enough to create a star (equivalent of a local celebrity) out of an individual. While all the social media platforms carry a cautionary note stating that they are not directed at children, TikTok’s target audience encompasses preteens and adolescents.

The desperation to get more people to like and follow the video has often led to youngsters attempting dangerous acts, causing serious injuries and even death in many cases.


Over the last one year, at least 27 people are reported to have died while filming TikTok videos and another five for undertaking TikTok challenges.

Additionally, there have been several cases of objectionable content being uploaded which eventually led to banning of TikTok in several countries, including Indonesia, Bangladesh and India.

In April 2019, the app was briefly banned in India on the ground that it was being used as a platform for spreading of obscene and illicit content, and with the primary target consumer being children and young adults. The court ruling had also questioned the impact on mental health that the app was having on the average consumer.

Another concern regarding the app has been that of data collection and censorship. A report by The Guardian revealed that TikTok tends to censor videos on issues that do not please China such as the Tiananmen Square incident, Hong Kong protests and Tibetan independence. This came to light through leaked documents outlining the site’s moderation guidelines. This has led the United States (US) to launch a national security review of TikTok.

The US believes that China is advancing its policy of control and censorship abroad through the app which is against the American value system that promotes free speech and competing ideologies.

The parent company ByteDance has also been accused of possible links with the Chinese Government.

The company has denied these allegations and has reported that the user data of US is stored domestically and the backup data in Singapore. However, with the parent company based in Beijing, TikTok is subjected to the Chinese jurisdiction and laws that often compel the private agencies to share information when needed. This is due in part to the Chinese Government’s deliberate integration of the public and private digital landscape through Article 7 of its National Intelligence Law that requires Chinese citizens and organisations to cooperate with state intelligence work.

This has been further fortified by China’s 2017 Cybersecurity Law. As public policy researchers noted last year, these laws “[entail] strict provisions requiring data to be housed inside China, as well as spot inspections and even black-box security audits.”

Data Protection:

The recent incident of WhatsApp (despite being end-to-end encrypted) being used by the NSO Group, via a spyware, to spy on people has once again brought forth the concerns about data protection.

One often tends to ignore the importance of protecting the personal data voluntarily disseminated on social media apps. With such data becoming a critical resource, the first question to be asked is where is the user data being stored?

Currently, the TikTok data for Indian users is being stored in the third-party data centres located in the US and Singapore. In July 2019, ByteDance proposed setting up a data centre in India itself.


However, no definitive timeline for the proposed plan has been given yet. Moreover, there is no clear indication as to what level the data would still be accessible or what set of security measures would be in place for data protection.

It is important to note that if a company stores Indian data overseas then that data is subjected to that country’s legislation which may or may not be in line with India’s interest. Furthermore, Indian lawmakers and citizens possess even less insight into data security practices of foreign-owned technology practices.

The dearth of information with regard to real-time data collection, storage, levels of access, server locations, and third party partnerships present a national security risk.

According to an article published in Quartz in May 2019, the previous version of TikTok’s privacy policy allowed data on the app to be shared with “any member or affiliate of [its] group in China” before the policy was revised in February 2019 with no clear indication of how much data has been already shared before the revision. Besides, the new privacy policy does not specify whether the user data can be transferred to or accessed from China.

Without a deeper insight and greater transparency regarding storage and handling of data of the Indian users, there could also be concerns regarding possible backdoors or even introduction of security flaws.

TikTok app has been blamed for censoring politically sensitive information with respect to China in the name of content moderation. The same has not been true for other countries. In India, the app has been blamed for aggravating religious and caste-based hatred and political differences in the country.

Although TikTok has community guidelines against hateful or violent content, and a moderation team that flags and removes problematic videos, the extent of their implementation remains far from satisfactory.

Earlier, during the ban in April 2019, it had stated that around 250 people have been employed for the same, that is, 250 people for content moderation in a country with approximately 120 million active users. One can easily do the math and estimate the quality of content moderation.

However, TikTok is not the sole case of a social media app misusing data or fomenting hatred and violence. The same has been true for other apps too. With most of the social media apps originating abroad, it is often difficult for the social media app makers to fully grasp the cultural complexities or sensitivities attached to certain social and political issues in other countries. This is where effective civil rights audit is required to ensure that misinformation or messages likely to incite hatred and violence are not proliferated through these applications.

It is noteworthy that a civil rights audit was undertaken by Facebook in the US in May 2018 pertaining to concerns raised by more than 90 civil rights organisations.

Till date, the company has been putting in place policies that protect against misinformation, identifies hate slogans and symbols connected to white nationalism and separatism, and prevents voter suppression.

Furthermore, with the availability of a variety of user data including data with high commercial value (biometric and behavioural patterns), private companies tend to lobby against strict data protection laws.

With increasing data thefts and applications often becoming tools for spying, there is a dire need for a data protection bill to come into play. India needs to set up a grievance redressal mechanism for all the social media applications available in the country. It is also vital that the privacy rules of apps cater to the sensitivities of its Indian users and have their data centres within the country.

The draft Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 was recently introduced in the Lok Sabha and would now be examined by a joint select committee. The Bill emphasises the need for data localisation and the importance of treating data as a national property. Data is a strategic asset and should be handled with utmost security.

It is important to ensure that customers are secure with respect to their data. Although the draft Bill may not be foolproof at this juncture, nevertheless, a beginning has been made towards having a stronger framework for the protection and security of data.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Originally published by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.inhere.

Kritika Roy

Kritika Roy is Research Analyst at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.

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DIALOGUE FOR CHANGE

NCERT To Revise Curriculum Framework For School Education After 15 Years

Subject experts will initiate this process for school education, and give an interim report by December 2020.

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NEW DELHI: In view of the decision of setting up of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Mission under Atma Nirbhar Bharat, Union Ministry of Human Resource Development MHRD has prepared a roadmap for the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) for the academic year 2020-21.

The new roadmap for NCERT has been prepared with a learning outcome-centric approach and NCERT has been tasked to develop the required resources for its implementation leading to all-around improvement in learning outcomes and learning levels of students.

The interim report on the new National Curriculum Framework (NCF) for school education, which is being revised after 15 years, will be submitted by December and the new curriculum is expected to be ready by March next year, according to the HRD Ministry.


The new NCF for school education has been initiated. NCERT will be expected to make changes in the textbooks in accordance with the new NCF. Subject experts will initiate this process for school education, and give an interim report by December 2020. The new NCF is expected to be ready by March 2021,” the HRD Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry has directed the National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) that while redesigning textbooks, it is to be ensured that nothing but the core content is placed in them.

Also, the cognitive load of the textbooks is too high. Additional areas, such as creative thinking, life skills, Indian ethos, art, and integration, need to be integrated. NCERT will also start working on the layout and design of the new textbooks well in advance, however, the new textbooks shall be written based on the new NCF.”


Under Atma Nirbhar Bharat, for PM E-Vidya, NCERT is also expected to prepare content for classes I–XII for SWAYAM PRABHA channels (1 class 1 channel) and start the channels by August this year,” the ministry said.

The revision of the curriculum framework will be in sync with the implementation of the examination reforms such as uniform assessment and evaluation system under the proposed National Assessment Centre as proposed by the New Education Policy draft.

The new National Curriculum Framework (NCF) for School Education has also been initiated. NCERT will be expected to make changes in the textbooks in accordance with the new NCF. Subject experts will initiate this process for school education, and give an interim report by December 2020.

While redesigning textbooks, it is to be ensured that nothing but the core content is placed in textbooks. Also, the cognitive load of the textbooks is too high. Additional areas, such as creative thinking, life skills, Indian ethos, art, and integration, etc. need to be integrated.

NCERT will also start working on the layout and design of the new textbooks well in advance, however, the new textbooks shall be written based on the new NCF. The new NCF is expected to be ready by March 2021.


Under AtmaNirbhar Bharat, for PM E-Vidya, NCERT is also expected to prepare content for Class 1 – 12 for SWAYAM PRABHA channels (1 class 1 channel) and start the channels by August this year.

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AGENTS OF CHANGE

MEA Lists Out India’s Priorities For UNSC Seat Campaign

The election for the UN Security Council is slated to be held on June 17.

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NEW DELHI: External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar launched a brochure earlier today outlining India’s priorities for its forthcoming campaign to secure an elected seat on the UN Security Council at elections slated for June 17, 2020.

As a single endorsed candidate of the Asia-Pacific Group, India’s candidature is very likely to succeed. In this case, this would be India’s eighth term on the UN Security Council; this two-year tenure will start in January 2021.

India’s approach at the United Nations Security Council will be guided by the following tenets:


  1. Samman (“Respect“)
  2. Samvad (“Communication“)
  3. Sahyog (“Cooperation“)
  4. Shanti (“Peace“)
  5. Samriddhi (“Prosperity“)

External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar asserted that India’s overall objective during the fresh tenure in the UN Security Council will be the achievement of N.O.R.M.S. , New Orientation for a Reformed Multilateral System.

The Priorities Paper, issued as a brochure by the Minister, set out the key priorities for India, as under:

  1. New Opportunities for progress
  2. Effective response to international terrorism
  3. Reforming the multilateral system
  4. A comprehensive approach to international peace and security
  5. Promoting technology with a human touch as a driver of solutions

He said this today at the launch event of a brochure outlining India’s priorities for its forthcoming campaign to secure an elected seat in the UN Security Council.


The election for the UN Security Council is slated to be held on June 17.

As a single endorsed candidate of the Asia-Pacific Group, India’s candidature is very likely to succeed. This would be the nation’s eighth term in the UN Security Council which will begin from January next year.

In his remarks, EAM referred to the international context that the Security Council will confront, with regard to both new and continuing traditional challenges to international peace and security.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further contributed to a more complex international economic and political environment, including by limiting the capacity of States to respond to local, regional and global challenges.

Dr Jaishankar emphasized India’s long-standing role as a voice of moderation, an advocate of dialogue, and a proponent of international law.

He set out India’s principled approach to international relations, which India’s foreign policy establishment would bring to the table at the UN Security Council once India is elected to a two-year term on the Council.

New opportunities for progress, an effective response to international terrorism, reforming the multilateral system, comprehensive approach to international peace and security and promoting technology with a human touch as a driver of solutions have been underlined as the key priorities for the country in its stance at the UN Security Council.


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DIALOGUE FOR CHANGE

Trump Vs Twitter: Here’s The “Executive Order On Preventing Online Censorship”

The executive order challenges lawsuit protections for “unrestricted speech” on the internet.

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WASHINGTON DC (United States): A day after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey slammed Donald Trump, the US President on Friday signed an executive order challenging lawsuit protections that have served as a bedrock for the unrestricted speech on the internet.

Trump said the fact checks were “editorial decisions” by Twitter amounting to political activism and that such actions should cost social media companies their liability protection for what is posted on their platforms.

Here is the complete executive order, as released by The White House:


By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Policy.  Free speech is the bedrock of American democracy.  Our Founding Fathers protected this sacred right with the First Amendment to the Constitution.  The freedom to express and debate ideas is the foundation for all of our rights as a free people.

In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet.  This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic.  When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power.  They cease functioning as passive bulletin boards, and ought to be viewed and treated as content creators.


The growth of online platforms in recent years raises important questions about applying the ideals of the First Amendment to modern communications technology.  Today, many Americans follow the news, stay in touch with friends and family, and share their views on current events through social media and other online platforms.  As a result, these platforms function in many ways as a 21st century equivalent of the public square.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events; to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see.

As President, I have made clear my commitment to free and open debate on the internet. Such debate is just as important online as it is in our universities, our town halls, and our homes.  It is essential to sustaining our democracy.

Online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse.  Tens of thousands of Americans have reported, among other troubling behaviors, online platforms “flagging” content as inappropriate, even though it does not violate any stated terms of service; making unannounced and unexplained changes to company policies that have the effect of disfavoring certain viewpoints; and deleting content and entire accounts with no warning, no rationale, and no recourse.

Twitter now selectively decides to place a warning label on certain tweets in a manner that clearly reflects political bias.  As has been reported, Twitter seems never to have placed such a label on another politician’s tweet.  As recently as last week, Representative Adam Schiff was continuing to mislead his followers by peddling the long-disproved Russian Collusion Hoax, and Twitter did not flag those tweets.  Unsurprisingly, its officer in charge of so-called ‘Site Integrity’ has flaunted his political bias in his own tweets.


At the same time online platforms are invoking inconsistent, irrational, and groundless justifications to censor or otherwise restrict Americans’ speech here at home, several online platforms are profiting from and promoting the aggression and disinformation spread by foreign governments like China.  One United States company, for example, created a search engine for the Chinese Communist Party that would have blacklisted searches for “human rights,” hid data unfavorable to the Chinese Communist Party, and tracked users determined appropriate for surveillance.  It also established research partnerships in China that provide direct benefits to the Chinese military.  Other companies have accepted advertisements paid for by the Chinese government that spread false information about China’s mass imprisonment of religious minorities, thereby enabling these abuses of human rights.  They have also amplified China’s propaganda abroad, including by allowing Chinese government officials to use their platforms to spread misinformation regarding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to undermine pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

As a Nation, we must foster and protect diverse viewpoints in today’s digital communications environment where all Americans can and should have a voice.  We must seek transparency and accountability from online platforms, and encourage standards and tools to protect and preserve the integrity and openness of American discourse and freedom of expression.

Sec. 2.  Protections Against Online Censorship.  (a)  It is the policy of the United States to foster clear ground rules promoting free and open debate on the internet.  Prominent among the ground rules governing that debate is the immunity from liability created by section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act (section 230(c)).  47 U.S.C. 230(c).  It is the policy of the United States that the scope of that immunity should be clarified: the immunity should not extend beyond its text and purpose to provide protection for those who purport to provide users a forum for free and open speech, but in reality use their power over a vital means of communication to engage in deceptive or pretextual actions stifling free and open debate by censoring certain viewpoints.

Section 230(c) was designed to address early court decisions holding that, if an online platform restricted access to some content posted by others, it would thereby become a “publisher” of all the content posted on its site for purposes of torts such as defamation.  As the title of section 230(c) makes clear, the provision provides limited liability “protection” to a provider of an interactive computer service (such as an online platform) that engages in “‘Good Samaritan’ blocking” of harmful content.  In particular, the Congress sought to provide protections for online platforms that attempted to protect minors from harmful content and intended to ensure that such providers would not be discouraged from taking down harmful material.  The provision was also intended to further the express vision of the Congress that the internet is a “forum for a true diversity of political discourse.”  47 U.S.C. 230(a)(3).  The limited protections provided by the statute should be construed with these purposes in mind.

In particular, subparagraph (c)(2) expressly addresses protections from “civil liability” and specifies that an interactive computer service provider may not be made liable “on account of” its decision in “good faith” to restrict access to content that it considers to be “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable.”  It is the policy of the United States to ensure that, to the maximum extent permissible under the law, this provision is not distorted to provide liability protection for online platforms that — far from acting in “good faith” to remove objectionable content — instead engage in deceptive or pretextual actions (often contrary to their stated terms of service) to stifle viewpoints with which they disagree.  Section 230 was not intended to allow a handful of companies to grow into titans controlling vital avenues for our national discourse under the guise of promoting open forums for debate, and then to provide those behemoths blanket immunity when they use their power to censor content and silence viewpoints that they dislike.  When an interactive computer service provider removes or restricts access to content and its actions do not meet the criteria of subparagraph (c)(2)(A), it is engaged in editorial conduct.  It is the policy of the United States that such a provider should properly lose the limited liability shield of subparagraph (c)(2)(A) and be exposed to liability like any traditional editor and publisher that is not an online provider.

(b)  To advance the policy described in subsection (a) of this section, all executive departments and agencies should ensure that their application of section 230(c) properly reflects the narrow purpose of the section and take all appropriate actions in this regard.  In addition, within 60 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary), in consultation with the Attorney General, and acting through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), shall file a petition for rulemaking with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting that the FCC expeditiously propose regulations to clarify:

(i) the interaction between subparagraphs (c)(1) and (c)(2) of section 230, in particular to clarify and determine the circumstances under which a provider of an interactive computer service that restricts access to content in a manner not specifically protected by subparagraph (c)(2)(A) may also not be able to claim protection under subparagraph (c)(1), which merely states that a provider shall not be treated as a publisher or speaker for making third-party content available and does not address the provider’s responsibility for its own editorial decisions;

(ii)  the conditions under which an action restricting access to or availability of material is not “taken in good faith” within the meaning of subparagraph (c)(2)(A) of section 230, particularly whether actions can be “taken in good faith” if they are:

(A)  deceptive, pretextual, or inconsistent with a provider’s terms of service; or


(B)  taken after failing to provide adequate notice, reasoned explanation, or a meaningful opportunity to be heard; and

(iii)  any other proposed regulations that the NTIA concludes may be appropriate to advance the policy described in subsection (a) of this section.

Sec. 3.  Protecting Federal Taxpayer Dollars from Financing Online Platforms That Restrict Free Speech.  (a)  The head of each executive department and agency (agency) shall review its agency’s Federal spending on advertising and marketing paid to online platforms.  Such review shall include the amount of money spent, the online platforms that receive Federal dollars, and the statutory authorities available to restrict their receipt of advertising dollars.

(b)  Within 30 days of the date of this order, the head of each agency shall report its findings to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

(c)  The Department of Justice shall review the viewpoint-based speech restrictions imposed by each online platform identified in the report described in subsection (b) of this section and assess whether any online platforms are problematic vehicles for government speech due to viewpoint discrimination, deception to consumers, or other bad practices.

Sec. 4.  Federal Review of Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices.  (a)  It is the policy of the United States that large online platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, as the critical means of promoting the free flow of speech and ideas today, should not restrict protected speech.  The Supreme Court has noted that social media sites, as the modern public square, “can provide perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard.”  Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S. Ct. 1730, 1737 (2017).  Communication through these channels has become important for meaningful participation in American democracy, including to petition elected leaders.  These sites are providing an important forum to the public for others to engage in free expression and debate.  Cf. PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74, 85-89 (1980).

(b)  In May of 2019, the White House launched a Tech Bias Reporting tool to allow Americans to report incidents of online censorship.  In just weeks, the White House received over 16,000 complaints of online platforms censoring or otherwise taking action against users based on their political viewpoints.  The White House will submit such complaints received to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

(c)  The FTC shall consider taking action, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to prohibit unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, pursuant to section 45 of title 15, United States Code.  Such unfair or deceptive acts or practice may include practices by entities covered by section 230 that restrict speech in ways that do not align with those entities’ public representations about those practices.

(d)  For large online platforms that are vast arenas for public debate, including the social media platform Twitter, the FTC shall also, consistent with its legal authority, consider whether complaints allege violations of law that implicate the policies set forth in section 4(a) of this order.  The FTC shall consider developing a report describing such complaints and making the report publicly available, consistent with applicable law.

Sec. 5.  State Review of Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices and Anti-Discrimination Laws.  (a)  The Attorney General shall establish a working group regarding the potential enforcement of State statutes that prohibit online platforms from engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices.  The working group shall also develop model legislation for consideration by legislatures in States where existing statutes do not protect Americans from such unfair and deceptive acts and practices. The working group shall invite State Attorneys General for discussion and consultation, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law.

(b) Complaints described in section 4(b) of this order will be shared with the working group, consistent with applicable law. The working group shall also collect publicly available information regarding the following:

(i) increased scrutiny of users based on the other users they choose to follow, or their interactions with other users;

(ii) algorithms to suppress content or users based on indications of political alignment or viewpoint;

(iii) differential policies allowing for otherwise impermissible behavior, when committed by accounts associated with the Chinese Communist Party or other anti-democratic associations or governments;

(iv) reliance on third-party entities, including contractors, media organizations, and individuals, with indicia of bias to review content; and

(v) acts that limit the ability of users with particular viewpoints to earn money on the platform compared with other users similarly situated.

Sec. 6.  Legislation.  The Attorney General shall develop a proposal for Federal legislation that would be useful to promote the policy objectives of this order.

Sec. 7.  Definition.  For purposes of this order, the term “online platform” means any website or application that allows users to create and share content or engage in social networking, or any general search engine.

Sec. 8.  General Provisions. (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i)    the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii)   the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b)  This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c)  This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

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