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TikTok Underlines Need For Data Protection Bill

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



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

The idea was to blend “TikTok’s AI-fed streams and monetisation track record with’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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CAA Is Fulfilment Of A Longstanding Demand

The Act illustrates the Indian culture of acceptance, harmony, compassion and brotherhood.



The Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA, which came into force on December 12, 2019, has been welcomed as a long-overdue humanitarian gesture towards non-Muslim refugees compelled to flee from the three neighbouring countries due to religious persecution.

The Act states that any person belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or the Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who entered into India on or before December 31, 2014, without proper documents (passport, visa, etc.), shall not be treated as an illegal migrant and granted citizenship on certain conditions and restrictions, provided s/he has been in India for an aggregate period of not less than five years.

In other words, the Act does not immediately grant citizenship to the six religious communities but merely makes them eligible to apply for the Indian citizenship by naturalisation, provided they can establish their residency in India for five years instead of the existing eleven years.

The government stated that amendment to the Citizenship Act was made because the said minorities were subjected to religious persecution and they had nowhere to go but to enter India illegally.

While the term ‘religious persecution’ itself is not mentioned in the Act, the government had clarified that “the Bill has been drafted in such a way that it gives reference to the Notifications dated September 7, 2015, and July 18, 2016, which mention the term ‘Religious Persecution.’”

The Act, however, has faced opposition from sections of the society including university students, intellectuals, religious communities, and political parties. The primary contention of the opponents is that the Act discriminates against Muslims and undermines the Right to Equality enshrined in the Constitution which, inter alia, stipulates that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth.

The fact, however, is that CAA does not deal with Indian citizens including Muslims but merely provides for non-Muslim refugees from the three specified countries to acquire Indian citizenship.

In no way or by any implication this Act disfavours Indian Muslims. Therefore any attempt to link it with the rights of Indian Muslim citizens is erroneous.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured that “CAA does not affect any citizen of India of any religion. No Indian has anything to worry regarding this Act. This Act is only for those who have faced years of persecution outside and have no other place to go except India.”

Further, CAA has been passed by the Parliament after due process and it is for the Supreme Court, which has been approached in this regard, to rule whether the Act is constitutional or not in terms of its abidance by the Right to Equality.

The opposition to the Act in the Northeast is on account of it not being in the interest of the indigenous people of the region.

This contention also does not hold water because CAA is not applicable to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura which are covered by the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution as well as in areas covered under the “Inner Line” notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.

At present, total 10 autonomous districts and territorial councils are functioning in the states of Assam, Mizoram, Tripura, and Meghalaya with the power of legislation and administration over land, water, soil, community forest, agriculture, and village and town management in addition to the administration of tribal or local laws.

States such as Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Manipur, where the Sixth Schedule is not implemented, are covered under the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system.

The ILP system offers protection for tribal communities in these states against exploitation by the socio-economically more advanced plains people.

Under the system, any Indian citizen (non-tribal) who wishes to enter these protected areas is required to obtain an ILP, which allows him or her to stay in these states for a specified period subject to stipulated terms and condition.

The exclusion of tribal areas from the ambit of CAA through the provisions of the Sixth Schedule and ILP system means that the socio-economic and cultural interests of the indigenous people of the Northeast are well protected and the illegal immigrants granted citizenship under CAA cannot own land or settle in these areas.

These special provisions have quietened opposition to CAA in most states of the Northeast except in Assam.

Protests are persisting in Assam because of the impression that, by granting citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindu illegal migrants, the Act dilutes the Assam Accord and negates the recently concluded Supreme Court-mandated updation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

In response to Assamese concerns, the Centre has stated that CAA does not dilute the sanctity of the Assam Accord as far as the cut-off date of March 24, 1971, is concerned but addresses the concerns of only a few identified minorities on humanitarian grounds. It further promised that the linguistic, cultural, economic and political rights of the Assamese people will be safeguarded.

In fact, in July 2019, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had reconstituted a 12- member high-level committee to examine the effectiveness of the measures taken under Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, suggest appropriate levels of reservation of seats in the state legislative assembly and local bodies as well as employment under the state government for the Assamese people, and recommend measures to protect and promote their social, cultural and linguistic identity.

Acceptance and implementation of the recommendations of the committee may assuage the negative feelings of the people of Assam towards CAA.

Of concern, however, is the perceived link between CAA and a nation-wide NRC aimed at rooting out illegal immigrants. The contention of the protesters is that when NRC is implemented, non-Muslims would be able to obtain citizenship under CAA even if they do not produce valid documents, whereas Muslims without documents would be declared illegal migrants and sent to detention centres.

To this, the Home Minister has clarified that there is no connection between the detention centre and NRC or CAA.

MHA has also released a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the Act in which it is stated that “the CAA has nothing to do with NRC.”

The efforts of the Centre to allay apprehensions regarding the Act by countering misinformation is a welcome step. A better understanding and appreciation of CAA by the people is expected to reduce opposition to the Act.

The CAA is a humanitarian act and its enactment is in fulfilment of a longstanding demand to provide succour to those minorities who have been compelled to flee due to majoritarian impulses in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The Act, as Prime Minister Modi said, illustrates the Indian culture of acceptance, harmony, compassion and brotherhood.

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.

Pushpita Das

Dr Pushpita Das is Research Fellow and Coordinator of the Internal Security Centre at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. Her areas of research include border security and management, coastal security, drug trafficking, migration, and India’s Northeast.

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NRC Good For India-Bangladesh Relations

With the Indo-Bangla ties on an upswing, this is the right time to deal with the issue of illegal migration.



The India–Bangladesh relationship is probably going through its best phase. It is one of the few success stories in India’s diplomatic notebook in an otherwise troubled neighbourhood. Both sides have managed to sort out a number of contentious issues. Prominent among them has been the land boundary and the maritime boundary dispute. Both the issues were sorted out to the satisfaction of Bangladesh where India ignored significant losses of territory to nurture the bilateral relationship.

This Indian investment in its relationship with its eastern neighbour has shown result and both sides are now enjoying a period of unparalleled bonhomie, peace and friendship.

However, fears are being expressed that India’s implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), first in the state of Assam and subsequently in the whole country could rock the boat.

While there is no doubt that the implementation of NRC is a complicated issue, but if properly implemented it would make the India-Bangladesh relationship more sustainable.

Even as the bilateral relations are on a strong footing, an oft-expressed fear is that the upsurge in the relationship is regime-specific.

While there is bipartisan support on the Indian side to maintain a friendly relationship with Bangladesh, the same cannot be said about the Bangladeshi side where the political opposition at the first opportunity is likely to take steps that could derail the relationship.

The opposition in Bangladesh has tried its best to convince its interlocutors in India that their attitude has changed. However, it remains to be seen whether it is so.

Generally, it has been pointed out that the Teesta water dispute is the only remaining dispute between India and Bangladesh and its solution would make the bilateral relationship smooth. What is conveniently forgotten is the long-standing issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh.

A report of the Group of Ministers on National Security, submitted in 2001, estimated that post-1971 approximately 12 million Bangladeshis have illegally migrated into various states of northeast India.

However, this number is expected to be much larger if one includes illegal Bangladeshi population residing in other parts of India. Moreover, the Bangladeshis have been illegally coming to India even after 2001.

While it is important for India is to take note of issues that concern Bangladesh, it is equally important for Bangladesh to be sensitive about issues that impact Indian interests. The issue of illegal migration is one such issue. This is something which the Bangladesh Government has to deal with sooner than later in the interest of better bilateral relations. This is necessary to make the government-to-government relationship between the two countries more sustainable.

Unfortunately, there appears to be no desire in Bangladesh to solve this issue to mutual satisfaction. In the past, successive governments in Bangladesh have denied the very existence of this problem. One of the country’s top diplomats had once even said that if Bangladeshis would have to illegally immigrate, they would rather swim to Italy than walk into India. The total denial of such a phenomenon only hardens sentiments in India over the issue.

It is true that Bangladesh’s economy has seen unprecedented growth, which has been growing at a rate of almost eight per cent last few years. While this has helped in improving the living standards of people in some parts of Bangladesh, a large part of the country still remains poor. These poor people can’t afford the cost of illegally immigrating to Italy. Ironically, only the relatively better-off people are trying to illegally immigrate to Europe. Most of the poor ones simply walk into India. This was clearly highlighted when some illegal migrants were recently deported from Karnataka.

Illegal immigration from Bangladesh, comprising both Hindus and Muslims, is an important issue from the national security perspective of India.

A large number of Bangladeshi immigrants are illegally living in India. Hindus are said to have migrated after facing religious persecution, whereas most of the Muslim migrants are termed as economic migrants.

The issue was further complicated sometime back when the Rohingya refugees originally from Myanmar started infiltrating into India through Bangladesh. It was suspected that the Bangladeshi authorities were consciously pushing these refugees into India. Some observers feel that Bangladesh probably hoped that the presence of Rohingyas in India would force India to take Bangladesh’s side against Myanmar. Moreover, Dhaka could also get rid of the thousands of Rohingyas living on its territory.

That minorities face violence and religious persecution in Muslim-majority countries in India’s neighbourhood like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, is well known. They are often dispossessed of their land and property and on many occasions even forced to convert. Their womenfolk are abducted and married off after converting them. Unfortunately, no international condemnation is expressed on these issues.

According to a Dhaka University professor Abul Barakat, from 1964 to 2013, around 11.3 million Hindus left Bangladesh due to religious persecution and discrimination.

This means on an average, 632 Hindus left Bangladesh each day and 230,612 annually.

This exodus mostly took place during the time of military governments after independence. The properties of the Hindus were taken away during the Pakistan regime describing them as enemy properties and the same were treated by the government after independence as vested property. These two measures have made 60 per cent of the Hindus landless in Bangladesh.

Though the present Sheikh Hasina Government has been trying to reassure the Bangladeshi Hindus, it has not been able to dispel the sense of fear prevalent among the Hindu minority population, which is being subjected to various types of discrimination at the societal level, generating in them the impulse for migration.

The Indian Government has clarified that the issue of NRC and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA are internal to India. The CAA is intended to provide expeditious consideration of Indian citizenship to the persecuted minorities – those who entered into India on or before December 31, 2014 – from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan. It does not affect the existing avenues which are available to the other communities to seek citizenship. Nor does it seek to strip anybody of citizenship.

According to the Indian Home Ministry, nearly 4,000 people from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh have been given Indian citizenship in the past six years. This includes as many as 2,830 people from Pakistan, 912 from Afghanistan and 172 from Bangladesh. Out of this number, close to 600 people are Muslims who have been given Indian citizenship.7 Such migrants will continue to get Indian citizenship if they fulfil eligibility conditions.

As the India-Bangladesh relationship is currently strong and trust levels on both sides are high, this is the right time to deal with the issue of illegal migration.

Bangladesh has already documented its citizens and maintains a biometric record of them. The National Identity Registration Wing (NIDW) was created within the Bangladesh Election Commission for that purpose. The country has now also distributed machine-readable smart national identity (NID) cards among 10 crore citizens, replacing the earlier paper-laminated cards. India too is justified in undertaking a similar exercise. This will help India get a grip on the problem.

Once the documentation of citizens is done in India, both sides can share their database. This will help manage the problem in a much more amicable manner.

The Bangladeshis often claim that their citizens are killed on the border by the Indian paramilitary forces. The documentation of citizens on both sides will also help in handling this contentious issue.

The issue of illegal migration in the India-Bangladesh relationship cannot be swept under the carpet. It will continue to be a stumbling block in the sustenance of a stable relationship. It will be better if both sides look at the issue dispassionately especially when the trust levels are high.

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.

Dr Anand Kumar

Dr Anand Kumar is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. His areas of specialization at IDSA are Counter-terrorism, South Asian politics, Bangladesh, Maldives, Proliferation of Small Arms and Low-intensity conflicts.

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Census India 2021, The World’s Largest Enumeration Exercise, To Begin On April 1

National Population Register (NPR) will be carried out along the house listing phase of the census.



NEW DELHI: The 16th Indian Census will begin on April 1 this year for which the Government of India has decided to move away from the traditional pen and paper to a digital method by using an android based mobile application. A total of 33 lakh enumerators, the persons who conduct door-to-door counting, would be mobilised for data collection for which notification has already been issued.

The Registrar General and Census Commissioner Vivek Joshi said in a notification that the (census) officials have been instructed to ask as many as 31 questions from every household during both house-listing and housing census exercises.

“In exercise of the powers conferred by section 17A of the Census Act, 1948 (37 of 1948), the central government hereby extends the provisions of the said Act, for the conduct of a pre-test of the Census of India, 2021.

The pre-test shall be conducted from August 12, 2019, to September 30, 2019, in all the states and the Union Territories,” Joshi said in a notification.

For the first time in the 140-year history of the census in India, data is proposed to be collected through a mobile app and enumerators would be encouraged to use their own phone.

The notification, however, made it clear that the mobile number will be sought only for census-related communications and not for any other purpose.

In the first phase, house listing operations would be conducted in any two months chosen by the states between April and September in 2020.

In the second phase, actual population enumeration would be done during February 9 28, 2021, followed by the revision round from March 1 5, 2021

As with the previous editions, the enumerators will be visiting households to seek information from the citizens of the country about the number of television sets, vehicles they own, mobile number, about the number of toilets in their homes, internet services, etc.

The numerators will ask whether the head of the household belongs to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe or Other category, ownership status of the census house, number of dwelling rooms exclusively in possession of the household, number of married couple(s) living in the household, main source of drinking water, availability of drinking water source and main cereal consumed in the household.

Questions related to the main source of lighting, whether the family has access to a toilet, the type of toilet, wastewater outlet, availability of bathing facility, availability of kitchen and LPG/PNG connection and main fuel used for cooking will also be asked by the enumerators, the notification said.

The government has set a target of September 30 this year for the Census to be completed with as many as 31 questions from every household to be asked and filled up by the enumerators during both the house listing and housing phase of the census.

The usual list of residents of the country, National Population Register (NPR) will be carried out along the house listing phase of the census.

The reference date of the Census for Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh will be October 1, 2020, while for the rest of India the date will be March 1, 2021.

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