The government will ensure consumers always have their platforms accountable in the digital space and Indian consumers’ rights to a safe internet must 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 and in-depth nationwide consultation on the new Digital India Bill, which will replace the two-decade-old Information Technology Act – found that the big tech platforms have spent years masquerading as innovation and abuse of market dominance , which requires a revision of the regulatory and legal framework.
“…it is a commitment we have to the people of India…1.2 billion Indians who will be using the Indian internet that we keep the internet open to them. We will ensure safety and trust on the internet for them. And we will ensure that consumers always have their platforms accountable to them, whether you are a big tech company or a small one, Indian or foreigner,” the minister told PTI.
He said “change” is normal in the tech and digital world.
“As we look to the future and look to the past, disruptions are becoming more and more normal. So we are essentially creating these laws or rules to drive this development as smoothly as possible,” said Chandrasekhar.
For a number of years, the big tech companies, be they search engines or social media platforms, have somehow escaped regulation from governments around the world “because they masquerade as innovation”.
Most governments around the world and consumers are realizing that while these major platforms do so much good, they also have a downside. For example, they can help users search faster, but they can also track movement.
“…as the Competition Commission recently pointed out…certainly they (digital platforms) enable many things to be done more efficiently, but they certainly also abuse market power and dominance,” the minister said.
The government’s approach is that platforms must continue to add value to citizens’ lives and not exploit citizens or their data.
“So there’s a lot of things wrong with the big tech platforms, even if they’re masquerading as innovations, and they’re doing good things… And that’s why these guard rail approaches that we’re taking… the prism of user harm is fundamental.” Principle, to ensure that the Indian digital nagrik, Indian consumers’ right to data protection and privacy and to a safe internet, whether you are a big or small tech company, foreign or Indian (platform), will never be “compromised, it will never be watered down,” the minister said.
The Internet today is very different from what it was in 2000 when the IT Act came into force.
“The internet in 2000, when the IT law came into force, and the internet in 2022-2023, from the point of view of complexity, diversity, risk and damage … they are two very different animals. And that’s why it’s certainly clear.” …that a legal framework that deals with the harmless internet and the internet that has only done good, this legal framework at a time when the internet is not only good but also bad , will certainly not be useful,” he explained.
Today’s Internet exhibits multiple levels of user harm and complexity.
“It’s certainly not about the internet having just one intermediary that connects the user to the internet. Now there are many, many different types of intermediaries with very different characteristics in terms of benefits, harms, risks, etc.,” the minister said.
Algorithm bias and accountability are among the challenges faced in the digital space.
“The Digital India Act is legislation that proposes to address these issues. But we’re not going to tackle this problem by making it so complex that it resembles the complexity of the internet. It will be based on the simple principle that the Internet should always be open and there should be no interference with the Indian consumer’s choices. No one should be able to assert their market power or use or abuse it to distort choice,” Chandrasekhar said.
Given that 120 million Indians, old and young, women and men, will use the Internet for pensions, various social services, education and skills in their lifetime, the Internet must be secure and trustworthy, the minister stressed.
“We cannot afford for our Internet to be anything but secure and trustworthy, and for anyone who causes harm to users to be immediately identified and held legally accountable. So we are moving from an era of a very simple internet to a very complex internet. “We envisage an era where the internet is not only good for the internet but also bad for the internet and hence the legal framework is moving from the IT Act to the Digital India Act,” the minister said.
He said asking whether social media platforms should even have safe harbor regulations is a “valid question” and “a conversation worth having.”
“Today, when publishers are held accountable under the laws of the country for the content they publish, what is special about a platform that exempts them and therefore denies their users recourse to natural justice when they exist are?” is something that is wrong, which is obviously wrong, which is harmful, which is defamatory,” he said.
Asking why users aren’t fully protected in such cases and why platforms should have that immunity “is a conversation worth having.”
“We tend today to believe, based on the discussions we’ve had with various stakeholders, that the government plays the role of arbiter between the platforms that have this harmful content and the user who is being harmed by the content government should be.” step aside,” he stressed.
In cases where a user who is offended by the content of a platform wishes to take action against the platform, the matter should be settled by the laws of the country and the judicial system, not the government.
“The government is sort of putting itself in the middle, knowingly or unknowingly, by granting these platforms Section 79 and safe harbor immunity. So I think it’s worth having a discussion about in this day and age of internet usage increasing.” “We’re getting more and more complex, 120 million Indians will be online, platforms will evolve and grow, and there will be new ones as the government moves into the middle of this,” he noted.
The questioning of the Safe Harbor regulations has certainly caused unrest on the platforms for the time being.
“…but when I explained it to them, like I explain it to consumers and other user organizations, people are starting to understand the logic of what I’m saying, why the government should protect the platforms in the first place.” …the platforms should with that are starting to develop a model where the relationship with their consumers is one where they take responsibility and their own content moderation strategies are therefore consumer-centric,” he said.