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TRAI recommends setting up regulator for Artificial Intelligence in India

The recommendations come in response to a query by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released recommendations on the use of artificial intelligence and big data in the telecom sector. Among key points highlighted in these recommendations, is the creation of an AI regulator and a widened scope for TRAI’s involvement in curbing spam.

They come in response to a query by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), which sought the recommendation of TRAI on provision 2.2(g) of the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP), 2018. This provision suggests “leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Big Data in a synchronised and effective manner to enhance the overall quality of service, spectrum management, network security, and reliability.”

Why it matters:

In 2022, TRAI published a consultation paper seeking comments from stakeholders on the same topic. In the paper, it had identified several risks associated with using these technologies such as issues with data privacy and profiling of telecom users, all of which are still relevant today. Keeping that in mind, these recommendations could set the stage for more discussion on how these technologies should be regulated.

Highlights of TRAI’s recommendations:

Creation of a regulatory framework for AI: This framework, it says, should be applicable across all sectors. TRAI makes a point that is very similar to the European Union’s AI Act, in that it asks for “a risk-based framework where high-risk use cases that directly impact humans are regulated through legally binding obligations.” This regulatory framework should include—
1. An independent statutory authority called the “Artificial Intelligence and Data Authority of India” (AIDAI).
2. A multi-stakeholder body that will act as an advisor to the statutory authority.
3. Categorization of the use cases of AI based on their risks and regulating them through the principles of responsible AI.

What is worth noting here is that while TRAI recommends “legally binding obligations” for high-risk AI, the government doesn’t intend to create them. The Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar has previously said that India has no plans to create separate legislation for AI, or to “hard code all the do’s and don’ts” for technologies. Instead, there will be rules under the Digital India Act (DIA) to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) and intermediaries that are high-risk AI.

Functions of AIDAI: TRAI says that AIDAI should oversee all issues related to data digitization, data sharing, and data monetization in the country, including framing policies and incentivization schemes for them. It should also put in place an overarching framework for the ethical use of data both by the Government, as well as by the corporates in India. It also suggests that AIDAI can set up regulatory sandboxes for testing AI solutions and collaborate with standard-setting bodies of various sectors, government ministries, and international regulators on AI-related issues. Given that this doesn’t have anything to do with telecom, does such a recommendation even fall under the purview of TRAI?

Use of AI in reducing the circulation of duplicate SIM cards: TRAI recommends that the DoT should collaborate with telecom companies to enhance the capabilities of ASTRA through the use of AI/ML and other new technologies for real-time analysis of the total number of mobile connections issued to a customer. It also suggests that for effective redressal of grievances of telecom customers, AI/ML and other new technologies should be used on data that should flow from telecom networks and redressal systems of telecom companies to dashboards of the DoT Public Grievance Unit.

Article continues below ⬇, you might also want to read:

As we have pointed out previously, ASTRA violates people’s right to privacy by processing their facial data. And so, one must question: is it even a good idea to improve ASTRA’s functioning?

Curbing spam with AI: Much like many other times before, TRAI has yet again urged for the use of AI in curbing spam calls and messages. It suggests that amendments should be made to Indian Telegraph Act, Indian Telegraph Rules, and the license conditions under the Unified Licence (UL) to empower itself so as to direct telecom companies to curb spam. These amendments will allow TRAI to direct telecom companies to enable machine-based identification and monitoring of bulk person-to-person messages for “automatic pattern recognition, anomaly detection, traffic analysis, reputation analysis, signature identification, etc,” as per the document released.

In all the previous directives by TRAI, be it the AI spam filters, or the deployment of a spam detection system, the onus of curbing spam has fallen onto telecom companies. Speaking about the use of AI in curbing spam, Nikhil Narendran, a partner at Trilegal law firm, previously told us that telecom companies are incentivized to ensure that a large number of calls and messages are carried out through their network because that’s how they make money. He further pointed out that given the financial incentives telecom companies have, “if you make them a co-regulator in a model to prevent further calls and further messages from disseminating, they’re not going to implement it.”

“We need an independent regulator or an arbitrary to determine whether somebody is making a spam call and ensure that there is some penalty which is determined on a fair and reasonable basis so that connections are denied, or some other disincentives are put on them,” he said. These recommendations, although urging government to increase TRAI’s involvement in curbing spam, still miss the mark given that telecom companies would still continue to be co-regulators.

You can read the full list of recommendations here.

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