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App ‘Shein’ was banned not its products: HC told

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The Delhi High Court, during the hearing of a plea highlighting sale of products from a brand named ‘Shein’ on the platform of Amazon.in, was informed that the sale of products from banned applications on a third party platform has not been prohibited by the Centre.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice D.N Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh was hearing a plea seeking prohibition on sale in the Indian digital market place, of products from applications banned by the Central Government.

In an affidavit filed by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, it has been submitted that though the functionality of Shein app has been blocked in the interest of nation’s sovereignty and security while exercising power under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act 2000, but the sale of Shein products through other platforms/websites is altogether a different aspect and cannot be included within the ambit of Section 69A. “A blanket order for blocking sale of Shein products in other websites cannot be passed by the Committee constituted under Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000,” stated in the affidavit.

It is further stated that every incident violating the provisions of the section 69A of the IT Act, 2000, related to already blocked information/ content has to be reported separately by following the due process as enumerated under the Blocking Rules, 2009, by way of a complaint made to the “Nodal Officer” of the concerned Organization.

Senior Counsel Vivek Raj Singh, appearing for the petitioner, while opposing the stand taken by the Government, contended that various Chinese applications, including Shein, were banned in order to safeguard the sovereignty and integrity of the nation, and thereby such applications should not be allowed to approach the country through any third party platform.

The Bench directed Amazon.in to file its response in the matter and slated it for next hearing on December 1, 2021.

A public interest litigation has been filed by one Ananttika Singh through Advocates Preet Singh Oberoi and Amer Vaid. The plea avers that the Ministry of Information and Technology, vide notification dated June 29’ 2020, temporarily banned the application and platform operated, owned and controlled by the brand ‘Shein’ on account of alleged misuse of data collected from Indian customers, thereby endangering the interest and sovereignty of India. Subsequently, in January, 2021, the application was permanently banned from operation in India by the concerned Ministry.

The plea further avers that an advertisement was released by Amazon.in on July 12, 2021, announcing the ‘prime sale’ scheduled to be held on its platform. The advertisement categorically mentioned about the sale of ‘Shein’ products on the website of Amazon.in as part of the sale.

At this backdrop, the petitioner made a representation on July 21’2021 to the concerned authorities highlighting that the sale of ‘Shein’ products through the platform of Amazon.in is contrary to the notification issued by the Ministry. In addition, it was also represented that on account of Amazon’s privacy policy dated October 21, 2020, wherein Amazon could share the data collected from users of its platform to the registered sellers, it could be possible for ‘Shein’ to access the personal data of millions of Indian citizens who purchases its products from Amazon. However, no action has yet been taken upon her representation.

The plea thus reads: “The Respondent No.2 (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology) and the concerned authorities whilst taking cognisance of the same, have failed to take appropriate steps in order to ban/suspend/regulate the entry of “Shein” into the Indian digital marketplace. Once it has been established that the entry of “Shein” and its products enabled access to information generated by computer source, which was prejudicial to the interest and sovereignty of India, it cannot be allowed to circumvent the law by using a third party platform akin to Respondent No.1 (Amazon India).”
“In the event that “Shein” is not prohibited from selling its products via the “prime sale” on Amazon.in, it could severely impinge on the integrity and sovereignty of this nation,” the plea further adds.

In this light, the plea prays for a direction to Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to take necessary steps to prohibit the entry of product of ‘Shein’ in the Indian digital market place through Amazon India. Furthermore, it seeks a direction to Amazon India to suspend partnership with any banned entity till such ban is not lifted by the Indian Government; as also to partially suspend partnership with ‘Shein’ till Amazon can assure the Government that no data would be shared by it in any form with ‘Shein’.

In addition, the plea seeks appointment of a third party committee by the Government of India, at the cost of Amazon.in, to make audits on the flow of data of the India consumers to Shein.

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