Passing the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018, dealing with platform’ concerns about the proposed intermediary guidelines, working on new initiatives geared towards digitisation of India’s villages, and ensuring a smooth 5G rollout will be key priorities for new electronics, IT, telecom, and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, according to ET. The data protection bill was drafted by a panel headed by (retd) Justice BN Srikrishna and submitted to Prasad in August 2018. It was expected to be ratified by the Lok Sabha last year. The same goes for the guidelines on intermediary liability. Thus, the key issues that Prasad is expected to bring up in Parliament are:

Data protection bill 2018

The personal data protection bill was expected to be taken up in the last session of Parliament, but that didn’t happen. It is now expected to be tabled in Parliament’s first session under the new government.

  • The draft bill defines “personal data” and “sensitive data” in a new light. Personal data has been termed as any data that provides direct or indirect identifiability of an individual. Biometric data, economic data, religious and political beliefs, gender, caste, and PAN number are among the things that fall under the ambit of sensitive data. Apart from that, the bill aims at the localisation of data – that is, it requires a copy of all personal data is to be stored within India (data mirroring), and all sensitive data to be stored only in India. Under Section 40, sensitive data cannot be transferred out of India.
  • Further, data breach notifications have to be made to the Data Protection Authority of India (DPA) only if the breach is likely to cause ‘harm’ to the data principal (Sec 32).

Read: Nikhil’s take on what data localisation could mean in the grand scheme of things

Guidelines on intermediary liability

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) proposed a draft called Information Technology Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment), 2018, and released the recommendations on its website for public comments in December 2018. The draft was formulated as a means to curb the spread of fake news through social media.

  • All internet, social media, and telecom companies operating in India fall under the ambit of an “intermediary”, and all companies that host user data or provide users with a platform for communication will be liable for their actions.
  • The draft amendment proposes that intermediaries will have to hand over to government agencies any information that might be related to cyber security, national security, or to the investigation, prosecution or prevention of an offence, within 72 hours.
  • Mozilla, the Wikimedia Foundation, Microsoft-owned GitHub, and Star India had written an open letter (pdf) to Prasad in January, outlining their concerns about the newly proposed Intermediary Liability guidelines.
  • Similarly, The Indian Music Industry, IndiaTech.org and Asia Internet Coalition had raised concerns over the bill’s definition of an intermediary and the likely harm it could cause to companies.

Digital Villages project

A key initiative of the NDA government in its first term was the Digital Villages project. CSC’s CEO Dinesh Tyagi believes that Prasad’s appointment as the Telecom minister has set the tone for Digital Villages 2.0, and expects the initiative to be sped up now that Prasad heads both the IT and Telecom ministries.

  • Under the Digital Villages scheme, villages were provided Wi-Fi connectivity, with healthcare and education provided digitally. Piyush Goyal, in his stint as the finance minister, had laid out the NDA government’s vision for rural India for 2030, in which digital technologies would play a key role.
  • However, ET reported that as of February 2019, more than 40,000 villages hadn’t benefited from the Digital Village scheme.

5G

Prasad, who has also been given the additional charge of the telecom and law ministries, said that his top priorities for the telecom ministry would be to “nurse the industry back to health” and lay the ground for deploying 5G technology. The NDA government in its last term had said that India would have 5G connectivity by 2020.

  • TRAI’s chief RS Sharma believes that the new government will work with “renewed vigour” to roll out reforms in 5G and the implementation of a new telecom policy, according to PTI. “My understanding is that NDCP (National Digital Communications Policy) was announced last year [and] there will be the accelerated implementation of provisions,” Sharma was quoted as saying. The cabinet had approved the NDCP in September last year, and it is awaiting ratification in the Parliament.

  • ET reported, citing a senior government official, that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is planning to hold the auction of 4G and 5G spectrum by October this year and will follow TRAI’s recommended pricing. “The committee (looking into the regulator’s recommendations) has agreed that all available spectrum will have to be put up for auction, which we will take up to the DCC (Digital Communications Commission) on June 13,” said the official. He also said that despite concerns over high pricing of 4G and 5G spectrum, the department is expecting bids for the spectrum sales.