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Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar bats for single data regulator to enforce data protection laws

The IT Minister of State chimed in on the encryption debate and responded to the controversial IT Rules on two separate occasions.

“We should not have a proliferation of regulators—a personal data regulator and a non-personal data regulator. There are some businesses that enjoy this kind of arbitrage opportunity that is represented by multiple regulators. I will have no problem if there is a convergence of regulatory entities or institutions for the entire data economy,” said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, during a conversation with Samir Saran, President, Observer Research Foundation. Chandrasekhar was speaking at CyFy 2021 in a session on regulation of the digital ecosystem in India.

He stressed the need for data sets as “fuel for artificial intelligence (AI)” and added that India cannot afford to stay out of the AI space as China is ahead of everyone in the world.

“A large reason for the delay of the Personal Data Protection bill has been the fact that the (parliamentary) committee had to work during COVID-19. There was patchy attendance of members because people couldn’t travel to Delhi,” Chandrasekhar said, adding that he is hoping the committee’s report will be tabled in the next session of Parliament.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar is the second-most important person in India’s IT Ministry and his remarks may indicate which way the Indian government is leaning when it comes to its regulatory priorities.

Key Takeaways from the ORF session

Encryption is not a fundamental right for terrorists: “We do not have a problem with encryption. Some of our disagreements with the platforms are because platforms tend to take away these fundamental rights. However, every country has had lawful rights to intercept traditionally for crime, terrorism and national security purposes. We intend to keep those rights. Encryption does not mean granting a fundamental right to evading law for terrorists from across the border,” Chandrasekhar said in no uncertain terms.

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Data sets are an opportunity to create AI: “India is generating about 150 exabytes of data per annum. We are the fastest-growing data producers in the world. All of this data has to be used for the benefit of our economy. These data sets represent opportunities for us to create AI and other machine learning capabilities of the kind that we will get once in a lifetime. I have no hesitation in saying that data generated by an Indian consumer using a platform that is available in India must be available to Indian researchers in an anonymized form that does not contravene privacy for research and entrepreneurship in India,” he said in response to Samir Saran’s question.

Regulation of the digital landscape: “It is important that the internet remains free of any companies that are either predatory or exploitative in nature or create monopolies. We have no problem with people making marketplaces on the internet and exploiting it commercially but it should be safe and trusted by users. People should find that big tech platforms are accountable to them therefore, we are not regulating big tech. If any company believes that it has the power to hog a piece of the internet, firewall that piece and then run it like its own kingdom because it is on the internet , we have a problem with it,” he said.

Assuming no laws apply to cyberspace is wrong.: “Cyberspace is without geography and boundary but that is not to say that the expectations of monopolistic conduct as unacceptable, of safety, trust, accountability, and openness go away. The assumption that no laws of any country apply to cyberspace is flawed. I believe many countries across the world are now waking up to the challenge of creating and enforcing laws of the land against crime, exploitation and monopolies in cyberspace,” Chandrasekhar said.

Is there a need to reconsider the element of reciprocity when it comes to countries that deny access to their own?

Rajeev Chandrasekhar said that the world was asleep for 30 years when the country to the North was building up capabilities without giving reciprocal access to either technologies or markets. “There is clarity in the minds of the democratic countries about what should be the future of technology and who should be the guardian. I hope the debate leads to the right conclusion, The rise of authoritarian regimes was aided by the proliferation, based on good intention, of technology from Western labs. It has put us where we are today. We need to be aware about how the future of technology will be steered,” he explained.

India’s policy on semiconductors and electronics: “India has to be a player in electronics. India has been absent for decades. We were reasonable players in the 70s and 80s and through a series of poor policies, we lost our electronics manufacturing capabilities. We are not only looking at semiconductors in the context of geopolitical threats to the semiconductor supply chain. It’s not a short-term reactive approach to the problems of today. We are also looking at our electronics ambition, and looking to develop a policy that will create investment and activity in the entire value chain— semiconductor design, packaging and testing, fab and materials. We will not be chasing trends if and when we do announce a policy on semiconductors.”

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Dominance of foreign operating systems: “ I’m very focused on intellectual property that is born and nurtured in India including operating systems. It is essential for India to have capabilities on that front. We have a conference coming up in October where we will encourage semiconductor design companies and electronic system design companies to do more work in this country, and we are prepared to create incentives and policy action to support them,” he detailed in his response.

Chandrashekhar’s response to the controversy around IT Rules

In a separate interaction with the Indian Express, Chandrasekhar suggested that the Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2021, are a way of laying out the government’s expectations with social media intermediaries. 

Managing or regulating social media intermediaries is not really high on the priority of things given all of the heavy-lifting that the government wants and has to do — Chandrashekhar to the Indian Express

He also said that the ministry will introduce FAQs and SOPs to address grey areas in IT Rules.

The IT Rules are important in the context of what’s happening with social media intermediaries in the US because they create an accountability relationship between them and the user, according to Chandrashekhar. He added that all stakeholders must get used to the evolving jurisprudence and legal framework around cyberspace.

“There is an absolute relationship between the user who feels the intermediary is being unfair, biased and prejudicial. The consumer has the right to raise that grievance, and the intermediary is obliged to respond to it. I don’t see any role for the government there,” he responded.  

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