Centre to release first draft of Digital India  Act in early June

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, minister of state for electronics and information technology (Photo: Reuters)
Rajeev Chandrasekhar, minister of state for electronics and information technology (Photo: Reuters)

Summary

  • The new Act is planned as a future-ready legislation to replace the existing IT Act
  • While a first draft may come in June, the government seems to be aiming for a more concrete version of the law by December

New Delhi: The first draft of the upcoming Digital India Act (DIA) will be published and opened for industry consultations by the first week of June, minister of state (MoS) Rajeev Chandrasekhar told industry executives at an industry consultation held in Mumbai today. Four industry professionals who attended the event told Mint that today’s discussion did not yield much new information over what was already discussed at the first DIA consultation held in Bengaluru in March.

One executive, who handles policy affairs for a Big Tech firm, said that the MoS spoke about principles of accountability and openness, and emphasized the need to keep the law future-proof. They also said that the DIA might overlap with the Digital Competiton Law that is in the works right now, and the MoS also “confirmed" that it will have rules for fair compensation of content monetization platforms.

The latter could be good news for news publishers, who have been pushing for laws that compel firms like Google and Meta to pay for distributing the content produced by publications, through search engines and social media platforms. The executive, however, was of the opinion that India’s rules will not allow collective bargaining as Australia does with its News Media Bargaining Code.

While a first draft may come in June, the government seems to be aiming for a more concrete version of the law by the December Parliamentary session. To be sure, a third round of pre-draft consultations are also expected to be held in Delhi next week, one of the people mentioned above told Mint. Two of the people said that they wouldn’t be surprised if a draft isn’t released in June, and the final versions of the DIA will likely run into 2024, and after next year’s national elections.

“The #DigitalIndiaAct is a future-ready legislation that aims to replace the existing IT Act and provide a strong legal framework for protecting the rights of Digital Nagriks while ensuring an enabling environment for innovation and growth," Rajeev Chandrasekhar said in a tweet after the consultation. He added that the DIA will be an “important pillar" for global standard cyber law framework, and that this was the first time “consultations are taking place around principles of the Act".

Addressing industry experts, lawyers, policymakers and startup bodies at Digital India Dialogues, a gathering hosted in Mumbai on Tuesday, Chandrasekhar said, “We are not going to regulate AI (artificial intelligence) but we will create guardrails. There will be no separate legislation, but a part of DIA will address threats related to high-risk AI."

Industry stakeholders and consultants involved during the two pre-draft consultations said that regulatory aspects that have been discussed and considered under the upcoming Digital India Act include “principle-based regulations around artificial intelligence, blockchain, and safe harbour protections offered to social media intermediaries."

Industry bodies have so far called for a “light-touched regulatory framework", in order to account for potential changes and evolutions in technology. On April 11, US-headquartered tech industry body The Software Alliance published a whitepaper on the upcoming Act, which urged Meity to “ensure policy predictability and regulatory accountability", prioritize cyber security as part of the policy framework, and use DIA as the central law, with all other tech-centric regulations revolving around it.

Stakeholders who were part of the consultations said that so far, the proceedings of the Act have been in line with what industry members have hoped for.

“Tuesday’s consultation in Mumbai showed that the government is looking for a principle-based approach, rather than a prescriptive approach to regulations. Scrutiny and regulation of intermediaries hosting user content is going to be amped up under the new Act, with the government also considering their stance on safe harbor protection. Another important issue is the harmonization of DIA with other sectoral laws. While there was not much clarity given on this point, the approach seems to be to keep DIA in the centre — and other sectoral laws such as payments, e-commerce, advertisement etc to revolve around it," said Kazim Rizvi, founding director of policy think tank, The Dialogue.

Rizvi added that there is also impending clarity required on how DIA would intersect with competition laws.

However, while the draft is expected to be released by early next month, it may not be passed in Parliament before the end of this year. Industry officials associated with the consultations process said that Meity is looking at a timeline of the first half of 2024 to adopt the Act into law.

Industry experts said that while the Act has discussed including regulations around AI, blockchain and cyber security under its framework, plenty of industry feedback is warranted on how to adopt such policies without hindering progress.

“India presently does not have a dedicated law for privacy, cyber security, and in officially codifying regulations around fields such as AI and blockchain. It will be important to not take a heavy-touched approach to regulate these nascent fields of technology, which may hinder progress. From what we’ve seen with the outgoing Information Technology Act, 2000, it is impractical from a political and pragmatic standpoint to update regulations at regular intervals. The Digital India Act will therefore have to curb ambition and instead focus on enabling industry adoption of new technologies, which these consultations are likely to bring to the fore," said Pavan Duggal, a lawyer at the Supreme Court.

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