The government will ensure that consumers always hold their platforms accountable in the digital space and the rights of Indian consumers to have a safe internet will not be compromised or diluted, Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on Friday.
The Minister of State for Electronics and IT, who is leading a wide-ranging and in-depth nationwide consultation on the new Digital India Bill, which will replace the two-decade-old Information Technology Act, said that for years big technology platforms have been masquerading as innovation and abuse of market dominance, which requires review of the regulatory and legal framework.
“…it’s a commitment that we have to the people of India… 1.2 billion Indians who are going to use the Indian Internet that we will keep the Internet open for them. We will ensure safety and trust on the Internet. And we will make sure that whether you are big tech or small, Indian or foreign, consumers will always have their platforms accountable to them,” said the minister. PTI:.
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He said “change” is normal in the technological and digital world.
“As we look to the future and we look to the past, disruptions are going to be more and more normal. … So we’re essentially creating these laws or rules to help move this movement forward as non-disruptively as possible.” Chandrasekhar said:
For several years now, big technologies, whether search engines or social media platforms, have in a sense avoided being regulated by governments around the world “because they have been disguised as innovation.”
Most governments and consumers around the world are finding that as well as these big platforms are doing, there is also a flip side. For example, they can help users search faster, but they can also track movements.
“…as the competition commission recently pointed out… of course, they (digital platforms) allow us to do many things more efficiently, but of course they abuse market power and dominant position,” the minister said.
The government’s approach is that platforms should continue to add value to citizens’ lives, not exploit citizens or their data.
“So there’s a lot of things that are wrong with big tech platforms, even when they’re masquerading as innovation and they’re doing well … And so these protective approaches that we’re taking … to make sure that whether you’re big tech , whether small, foreign or Indian (platform), the Indian digital citizen, the right to data protection and privacy of Indian consumers and the rights to have a secure internet will never be. compromised, it will never be diluted,” said the minister.
The Internet today is vastly different than it was in 2000, when the IT Act was passed.
“The Internet in 2000, when the IT Act was passed, and the Internet in 2022-2023, in terms of complexity, diversity, risk and harm… they are two very different animals. And so it’s certainly clear. “The legislative framework that deals with the benign Internet and the Internet that has only done good, that legislative framework is certainly not going to be helpful in an age where the Internet is not only good but also bad,” he explained.
Today’s Internet has multiple layers of user harm and complexity.
“Of course, it is not about the Internet having only one intermediary that connects the user to the Internet. Now there are many, many different types of mediators with very different characteristics of benefits, harms, risks, etc.,” said the minister.
Algorithmic bias and accountability are among the emerging challenges in the digital space.
“The Digital India Act is an Act that proposes to address these issues. But we won’t go into that, making it too complicated to liken to the complexity of the Internet. It will be based on the simple principle that the Internet should always be open and the choice that the Indian consumer has should not be impaired. No one should be able to claim or use or abuse their market power to rig elections,” Chandrasekhar said.
Considering that 120 million Indians, old and young, women and men, will all use the Internet in their lifetime for pensions, various benefits, education and skills, the Internet must be secure and reliable, the minister asserted.
“We cannot afford for our internet to be anything other than safe and secure, where anyone who harms users is immediately identified and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. So we are moving from a very simple Internet era to a very complex Internet. of the internet era, which does as much good to the internet as it does bad, and hence the legislative framework is shifting from the IT Act to the Digital India Act,” the minister said.
He said the question of whether social media platforms should provide harbor provisions at all is a “legitimate question” that needs to be asked and “a conversation worth having.”
“When publishers…today are held accountable for the content they own, publish, create under the laws of the land, what is unique about a platform that exempts it and therefore denies its users recourse to natural justice, if any?” is something wrong, which is an obvious lie, which causes harm, which is defamatory,” he said.
These questions about why users aren’t fully protected in such cases and why platforms should have that immunity are “conversations worth having.”
“We tend to believe today from the conversation we’ve had with various stakeholders that the government, which plays the role of arbiter between the platforms with this harmful content and the user who is affected by the content, the government should: step aside,” he emphasized.
In cases where a user offended by the platform’s content wants to go after the platform, the matter should be governed by the laws of the country and the court system and not by the government.
“The government has, in a sense, knowingly or unwittingly put itself in the middle by giving Section 79 and safe harbor immunity to these platforms. So I think it’s worth discussing these days when the internet is getting bigger and bigger. is getting more and more complex, 120 crore Indians will be online, platforms will evolve and grow and new ones will come if the government puts itself in the middle of it,” he noted.
The questioning of safe harbor provisions has certainly created a buzz among platforms now.
“…but as I explained to them, as I explain to consumers and other user organizations, people are starting to understand the logic of what I’m saying, which is why the government should protect platforms in general. “Platforms need to start developing a model where their relationship with their consumers is one where they are accountable and therefore their own content moderation strategies are aligned with consumers,” he said.