A bunch of initiatives are in motion even as several fresh suggestions ought to find policy favour
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It looks like 2022 is going to be a busy year for tech policy.
Even though I have been predicting its arrival for so long that nobody believes me anymore, no one can deny that India is closer than ever to having a data protection law. The Joint Parliamentary Committee has submitted its report, and, even though there is some dissent, the bill is on track to becoming a law.
That said, this is just the first step. As soon as the law is passed, we will need to establish a brand new regulatory infrastructure entirely from scratch. This includes appointing not just the chairman and six other members of the Data Protection Authority, but also the entire administrative machinery needed to support its functioning. Corporations, in the meantime, will have to re-engineer their processes so that they comply with the new statutory framework. Much of 2022 will be spent getting all this in place.
Over the past year-and-a-half, the government has undertaken a number of bold and progressive regulatory reforms. These include replacing the Other Service Providers regime with a more benign framework, opening up map-making and enacting new, industry-friendly drone regulations. We need to ensure that there is no let up in the pace and progressive approach to regulatory reforms, especially in the tech space, where there is so much left to do.
In case the government is looking for suggestions, I have a few to offer. For instance, if we could establish an easy-to-use framework that enables companies to generate valid, electronically-signed contracts, we would be able to significantly streamline a major business bottleneck. This, coupled with measures that make it possible to pay stamp duty digitally and electronically register documents that need registration, will radically simplify business processes, resulting in cost and time savings.
By encouraging mediation and enabling online dispute resolution, we could make our judicial system much more efficient, resulting in all but the most contentious disputes being diverted away from the courts. Other measures, such as the integration of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) into the administrative machinery of courts, will allow us to pay court fees digitally, resulting in more streamlined processes and greater accountability. Finally, by ensuring that the digital systems reference a common, standardized data taxonomy, we will be able to use data to provide us insight into how the system can be improved.
This year will also see the roll-out of more population-scale digital infrastructure. The Account Aggregator ecosystem that is touted to do for lending what UPI did for payments went live last September. As more banks and financial institutions come on board, I expect to see a large number of innovative lending products enter the market.
This will also be the year our digital healthcare system will come on stream. We have already seen some very early steps in this direction with the launch of the health ID and the establishment of registries for healthcare professionals. I am hopeful that in the course of the year, we will see pilot projects that provide us some sense of what this new digital health infrastructure can deliver.
I have been increasingly optimistic about the unique opportunity that India has in re-imagining digital commerce. All the building blocks are in place: robust payment infrastructure, delivery and fulfilment capabilities and a large mobile-first consumer base. I look forward to significant progress in building this new paradigm over the year.
It is also important to place these developments in a global context. More and more countries have begun to realize the value of developing population-scale data-sharing systems. Some have already begun the process of developing frameworks. This year we are likely to see greater global cooperation between like-minded countries to agree on a set of common principles that will guide the development of these systems.
Last year there was a lot of buzz around Web 3.0. While it was not immediately clear that everyone was speaking about exactly the same thing, what everyone seemed to agree on was that its arrival was imminent. If our past experience with Second Life is anything to go by, all this will mean, in the short term, that there will be a gold rush on virtual real estate as businesses hurry to establish their presence in the Metaverse. As exciting as this sounds, there is still a long way to go before these technologies can enter into the mainstream—and since its likely that the final shape of the Metaverse will be quite different from what we are being shown, it might be best to wait and watch.
Crypto has been the subject of considerable interest largely because of how the prices of various cryptocurrencies skyrocketed. But what was more interesting to me was the sudden mainstream acceptance of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and other crypto assets. As more effort is invested into integrating these technologies into the mainstream, I expect we will see more activity in this space. India is likely to enact some sort of regulatory framework for crypto, and while I am cautiously optimistic that it will not result in an outright ban, I hope the government will establish an enabling environment for crypto in the country.
In all, 2022 is likely to be action-packed for tech policy with a plethora of new regulations across a number of areas.
Hold on to your hats.
Rahul Matthan is a partner at Trilegal and also has a podcast by the name Ex Machina. His Twitter handle is @matthan