The Indian government has begun building the groundwork for a new Digital India Act to replace the outdated Information Technology Act of 2000. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology (Meity), hosted the first-ever public consultation on the new rules on Thursday.
Chandrasekhar gave a thorough presentation at a summit in Bengaluru, highlighting the issues that the country’s two-decade-old laws have been unable to address despite the country’s internet environment having fundamentally transformed. To put this in context, India had 5.5 million internet users in 2000 and currently has 850 million.
Throughout the previous two decades, the internet has expanded to house a variety of intermediaries, including ecommerce, digital media, social networking, over-the-top, gaming, and others. While cybercrime existed back then, internet users now face additional security issues such as cyber stalking, phishing, trolling, and much more. In his lecture, the minister also addresses the spread of hate speech, disinformation, and fake news.
“The new law should evolve through rules that can be amended, and address the tenets of Digital India,” according to the presentation, naming “open internet,” “online safety and trust,” “accountability and quality of service,” “adjudicatory system,” and “new technologies” as main priority areas.
On online safety and trust, it emphasises the importance of “age-gating” by regulating addictive technology and protecting minors’ data, as well as the safety and privacy of children on social networking platforms, gaming, and betting apps, as well as a mandatory “do not track” requirement to avoid using children as data subjects for ad targeting.
It also emphasises the importance of digital user rights as the right to be forgotten and the right to secure electronic means. Another point to emphasise is the importance of rigorously examining and regulating “discretionary moderation of fake news by social media platforms.”
The intermediary test
The presentation also went into detail about the so-called “safe harbour” for middlemen.
Previously, India was at odds with Twitter for noncompliance with social media guidelines, which resulted in the social networking company losing safe harbour status. This meant that Twitter may be held liable for the content shared by Indian users.
Since then, the government has tried to broaden the definition of intermediaries, use the term in the gambling industry as well.
In his presentation, the minister advocated for distinct standards for each type of intermediary, which he identified as ecommerce, digital media, search engines, gaming, and artificial intelligence, among others.
“Should there even be a’safe harbour’ for intermediaries?” The question was raised during the presentation.
In addition, the presentation emphasised the critical need for a “specific and dedicated adjudicatory system” for online civil and criminal violations. According to the future Digital India Act, the mechanism should be easily accessible, provide quick remedies to citizens, adjudicate cyber disputes, build a unified cyber jurisprudence, and enforce the rule of law online.
When can we expect the new legislation?
According to MoneyControl, now that the government has held the first round of consultations, two more rounds are planned before a draught bill is issued.
A draught of the bill is likely to be completed by the end of this month, followed by two to three months for the public to provide feedback. Following that, the bill’s final version will be issued.