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#PolicyNext: Geopolitics play – India’s perception on the global stage, emergence as a third bloc, and the impact of sanctions on policy

“The Indian government is actually fighting to retain the space to make decisions about technology policy”, said Amba Kak of Mozilla. “We’re at the pre-policy stage and its an important step that the government is taking by not willingly giving way to global governance organizations.” MediaNama held its first #PolicyNext conference on June 27th in Delhi, to get an overview of the internet and technology policy space. One of the focus areas of the discussion was the role of geopolitics, India’s perception on the global stage, and where localisation comes from; see our coverage of the event here.

Please note that quotes aren’t verbatim, and have been edited for clarity.

How tech policy developments in India are being viewed globally

The Net Neutrality discriminatory tariffs in 2016, the Data Protection Law, and the Press Note 2/3 were the three milestones in the past five years that have shaped perception of tech policy in India at a global stage, according to Kak. “The Indian government took a strong position on zero-rating, skipped over the connectivity-philanthropy play, and stepped in to stay that not just access, but also the kind of access, is important. It was hailed as momentous for other similarly placed countries, but it was also interesting the Canadian regulator was considering zero rating, and actually said that India is only country to have taken a strong position with an outright ban.”

But not all is good.

“India is trying to pose as strong on privacy with the data protection law, but it’s very clearly the state trying to control citizens’ data. This bill also doesn’t carry the legitimacy the Net Neutrality rules did, not in India or the international press, since the process has been less-than-perfect. With the Press Note 2/3, India is trying to take a radical position against existing competition law, amid global demands for it to be more radical”…
“Again, there’s been no argumentation provided for that decision, no evidence, no consultation,” Kak said. The credibility of these narratives on the global stage will depend as much on the outcome as they will on the process through which that outcomes is arrived, she said.

Rajneesh Wahi of Snapdeal disagreed, saying that India’s policy on FDI in e-commerce has been consistent. While there may not have been enough consultation of either Press Notes, they weren’t new policies per se, according to him. He argued that Press Note 3 only came because Press Note 2 was being violated with great fanfare. “The Indian government has been a little jumpy, but calling their policies protectionist is not the correct interpretation because it’s aligned to what the country needs,” he said.

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India is trying to emerge as a third bloc, and so is Asia

“India is definitely trying to emerge as a third bloc,” said Rahul Sharma of the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) “as a standalone national example where different stakeholder interests are driven through consensus. This approach is being adopted by numerous countries. Developing countries carefully look at Indian policy and try to adapt them. More than India, Asia itself is trying to emerge an independent power on the geo-politics front. This is visible in the ARSEC negotiations, ASEAN countries have developed frameworks on data governance.”

“Its true that we see a new, more self-assured India, one which wants to think outside the box. Other countries are copying India, look at Google Tax. India was the first country to impose it; very quickly Europe and some other countries also imposed it. India is also ahead in developing cloud policies.” said Chandrasekhar.

Japan as an Asian power, member of APEC: Data Free Flow with Trust (DFFT) largely came out because Japan is the sole country which has tried to emerge and match the ambitions of both the US and Europe, according to Rahul Sharma. “Its the only country to have become partner to the APEC cross-border privacy rules. Given that interaction that Japan and India have had in the past, India is trying to emulate the Japanese model wherein its trying to balance both stakeholders. But the difference is that India is not a member of APAC, unlike Japan.”

Sharma talked about the transnational nature of today’s companies and the need for a framework:

We also need to look at how the nature of companies has changed, and whether a company is called an Indian or American company, or a global company; thats the nature of the beast which the regulators are trying to address. In this age of hyper-specialization, a company cannot do everything itself; it will have supply chains and will align with partners in different countries. Going forward, there’s going to no product or service originating in and completely localized to one particular country. So, having different components with different countries, different regulations automatically apply. It’s in interest of the global community to come out with a harmonized, or maybe an intra-operable framework that govern these companies and for data regulations. I think G-20 is the perfect platform for this.

India’s policies are taken less seriously because of flawed process – does this impact investment?

Does the quality of policy-making and consultation – and the fact that India’s policies are being taken less seriously because of this – impact investment in tech businesses?

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The government starts off with a warm, welcoming climate for investment, but this violently changes, maybe due to traders bodies or others, explained Prashanto K. Roy. “There’s lack of consistency. Even if this cycles back to warmth after the election, there’s hesitancy because history is not forgotten.”

“In terms of tech policy, India has a very aspirational, strong role in the global digital economy. Its a great beneficiary of cross-border data flows, we process the world’s financial data. If you suddenly raise barriers, that’s a worrying situation, because we’re the ones processing data, even though the government is saying it will allow processing with limitations. There’s a emphasis on great control over processing of financial data of Indian citizens, and storage is definitely not allowed. That’s significantly worrying.”

Where does data localisation come from? What is the Indian govt’s thinking?

The only policy roadmap the government has defined in the e-commerce policy is data localisation, which seems to be unsatisfactory when compared to the goals of data sovereignty and data nationalism, said Amba Kak. “So where does this come from?”

“Some of these tensions can be pinned to some envy about China and Europe. China is leading the global AI arms race, because the state controls access to personal data and the digital economy, and that gives them easy access to the raw material that then fuels the AI industry. That’s shiny object that I’m sure the Indian government is looking at and, and trying to see how we can get there with the awkward situation that we actually have a constitutional democracy on the way. At the same time, the EU has taken moral and legal leadership, a space which the Indian government very much would like to see itself taking.

That’s shiny object that I’m sure the Indian government is looking at and, and trying to see how we can get there with the awkward situation that we actually have a constitutional democracy on the way.
Amba Kak

How do sanctions impact ideas of policy-making?

“Sanctions can fairly impact the sovereignty of companies. Donald Trump has used sanctions to ask Google not to supply Android OS to Huawei. The IEEE, which is a global multi-lateral community, had to take the pressure off U.S sanction and ban Huawei researchers from accessing those research, citing that as an American company, they have to follow the U.S sanctions,” said Rahul Sharma of IAPP.

“The role of where a company is headquartered, what laws apply and whether a country that wants certain sanctions to be imposed on multi-lateral forums, communities and institutions, this is going to be a big game-changer driving more and more countries to have sovereign control so that they are not impacted by unilateral sanctions.” he said.

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The Indian government is actually fighting to retain the space to make decisions about technology policy. We’re at the pre-policy stage and its an important step that the government is by not willingly giving away to global governance organizations.
Amba Kak

India’s IT revolution happened because of cross-border data flow:

“The multilateral institutions at our disposal right now are probably outdated. You can’t rule out the fact that India’s IT revolution happened because of cross border data flow. Maybe there’s a need to develop some SOPs to have some of the discussions and see how they can evolve. Maybe there’s a need to involve some of the companies in the process, some of them are as big as a country.”
Adnan Ansari

Data ownership unresolved globally – Indian govt attempted to define it in e-commerce policy

Rahul Sharma gives a picture of data governance among the existing powers. Regulations are not very stringent in the US and they allow companies to grow before regulating them, he said. In China the state owns the data, and defines freedom and limits for data use. Finally, the EU sees data as a fundamental human right and using data for society’s benefit.

And yet, in all three cases, none of these countries – specifically when we talk about data – define the ownership of data. “The ownership of data is in a sense still unresolved globally, across the US, China, and EU,” Sharma explained. “For the first time in the e-commerce policy draft, the Indian government said that the individual is the owner of data. The primary factor leading to this change or rigour from India is geo-economics; policies go after businesses which tend to be not just somewhat successful but also popular, they have the ability to scale and impact the end users and the consumers.”

“In last few years, we have seen the government’s ability to adapt to the changing paradigms amid platformisation of various services. The government is entering industries which didn’t have platforms/aggregators, this is driving the Indian government crazy because its slipping out of their control,” said Rahul Sharma. He explains that the Indian government has realized that data is going to drive economics, GDP, and jobs. “Data is seen as a driver of economic development, data and technology related factors have a massive impact on countries’ aspirations for GDP and growth. India itself aspires to grow from a 200 billion digital economy to 1 trillion by 2025.”


MediaNama’s first #PolicyNext conference, held in Delhi, was supported by Internet Society (APAC), OYO, Google, Amazon, Mozilla and Facebook. Digital Empowerment Foundation was the community partner for the event.

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