India needs a plan so we are not vulnerable to the ‘splinternet’: Rajeev Chandrasekhar

It doesn’t matter who owns what, we have a standard set of expectations, says State Secretary for Electronics and ICT

It doesn’t matter who owns what, we have a standard set of expectations, says State Secretary for Electronics and ICT

Hours after billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk took over social media platform Twitter, Secretary of State for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar spoke about the need to review the legislation of the 22-year-old IT law and stressed the need to ensure India is not vulnerable to internet weaponization.

Elon Musk just bought the social media site Twitter. Can you see it?

Our view of intermediaries has always been the same: that all intermediaries, large or small, should live up to our expectations of openness, security, and trust and accountability. That’s why we have the law and the rules; It doesn’t matter who owns what, we have a standard set of expectations and we stick to that.

Are you happy with the IT rules and what has been achieved so far? Do we need to tighten up even more?

The relationship between intermediaries and consumers was devoid of any framework and the rules held some accountability. Is it fully optimised, do we need a revision of the legislation, yes it is necessary. It makes sense that if you’re in 2022 and working under a law enacted in 2000, you’ll need a new look, since 22 years is a long time in internet history. I believe we will continue to see progress in developing the framework within which everyone on the internet can expect openness, and consumers, especially women and children, can expect safety, trust and accountability. That is the basis of thought, not only in India, but all over the world.

The role and influence of Big Tech has been brought into sharp focus by the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. How do you think we should respond to this?

We will have a digital economy of trillions of dollars in a few years, and a large number of companies will be on the Indian internet, so the internet will be an important economic part of our country. So if someone has the power to unplug the internet, that’s not a good thing. We don’t like the idea that a country should be, could be, should be, could be vulnerable to that kind of behavior – politically driven behavior, to any behavior that is aimed at blackmail.

What can we do? We must ensure that we cannot be disconnected; intermediaries will have to abide by the rules and laws of India. The weaponization of the Internet, or “splinternet,” is something we must plan for in order not to be vulnerable. It’s a goal for us.

How can that be achieved?

Many things happen and they are complex things, nothing is easy. Increasingly, bilateral or multilateral arrangements between countries will have to evolve in such a way that nothing can be done independently of other countries. A conversation has already started on these issues, on issues that technological intermediaries cannot leave unregulated, also to dispel the belief that the internet has no borders, that no law will be able to reach those who commit crimes in a another jurisdiction, while the victim is in another jurisdiction

What do you have to say about the relationship between intermediaries and the government – ​​there have been frictions in the past.

Our view is very clear, Article 19(2) makes exceptions to the freedom of expression. In cyberspace. There is case law that goes beyond 19(2) because there is also user harm. As long as it passes a certain test, that content will be removed or the individual will be deplatformed. What is the test of the law that that person fails? Currently, under certain sections, the government has the right to remove content, and as long as the process is transparent, it is a right that exists with any sovereign government.

There would be a new cybersecurity policy…

There is clearly a need for a general framework of laws and policies and rules. Do we have to move to a model where you have a new legislative framework, with the new regulatory capacity that addresses all related issues in a modern, contemporary way and they are all aligned? For example, cybersecurity is in a silo, it will be in a silo of user harm. Nothing will be done in this ministry without public consultation. I can’t give a timeline, but the concept note and what we’re proposing will be out as early as May.

There’s a lot of talk about account verification? What is your vision?

We don’t believe that account verification solves anything. We already have the rules for identifying the first culprit, who is in a lawsuit, but we’re clear on our stance. That position is legally correct. I have said in Parliament that we do not believe in verification because verification means knowing who you are and restricting your freedom of expression. You can’t say much if I know who you are. As a government, we don’t want to limit your right to free speech, so you can be anonymous. But since you said that, in the event of a crime, you cannot say that we will not allow the clauses relating to the identification of the first consignor.


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