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Digital India bill to be released post elections: IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar says

The Digital India Act will replace the 23-year-old Information and Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act), and is anticipated to regulate platforms, user harms, and other issues.

Image courtesy of Press Information Bureau

Speaking at Financial Express’ Digifraud & Safety Summit, 2023, Union Minister of State for Skill Development & Entrepreneurship and Electronics & IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar said that we wouldn’t see the Digital India Bill before the upcoming elections in 2024. “Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be able to catch the legislative window before the elections because we need certainly a lot of consultation and debate and discussion around it,” he explained adding that the government has a roadmap of the legislation, policy goals and the policy principles for safety and trust.

The Digital India Act will replace the 23-year-old Information and Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act), and is anticipated to regulate platforms, user harms, and the ethical use of technology, among other issues. The act has been in consultation since March this year, and while there were talks of the bill’s draft being released in June, the draft bill is yet to be made public.

Other key points brought up during the conference:

Regulating AI: Chandrasekhar said that the government has been consistent in its stance that everything it does in technology would be based on the principle of openness, “whether its the platform, whether its the internet should not be dominated by any state or any country or few big tech companies.” Other principles that the government is focusing on are safety and for platforms to be held legally accountable. He said that the government is taking the same principle to AI.

He said that the government does not want to demonize AI but rather wants to harness its power for the good of the people. “We certainly don’t want the narrative of risks of AI to get so far ahead of the innovation of AI that we lose sight of what AI can do for us and for the digital economy and for our people,” he explained. When the moderator brought up how the European Union and the US have taken steps towards regulating AI, Chandrasekhar said that India doesn’t necessarily have to follow the same path as Europe. He said that Europe has a rights-based approach to regulation whereas the US has a regulation for markets. “Our approach is a hybrid of both. We don’t think markets alone can regulate innovation and AI in particular. Nor should we allow our fixation on rights and regulation to derail the power of AI,” Chandrasekhar stated adding that the legislation for AI in India is the Digital India Act.

India’s approach to AI: “We are going to collect the largest collection, most diverse collection of datasets which is raw material for LLM [large language models] and foundational models,” he said adding that the government will build compute infrastructure to train these models. He said that the government’s plans for AI include use cases like healthcare, agriculture, governance, and language translation. “The startup and private sector ecosystem we have got major MOUs [memorandum of understanding] signed with companies like IBM already in AI,” he shared.

When asked about the dynamics of a market where the government is not just a regulator but also involved in AI data collection, Chandrasekhar said the government is very clear that India must have its own “sovereign AI”. The only way to have this, he explained is to have a government-sponsored datasets platform. “Now it could be that over time this becomes a Section 8 type company, non-profit, it could be something that is a PPP [public-private partnership] with the Indian startup ecosystem, that’s a work in progress,” he said.

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How deepfakes will factor into AI regulation: “We are seeing this as a zero-gap violation, totally zero-tolerance [to] violation by the platform,” Chandrasekhar said. He said that the government is going to create in-app grievance reporting and harm reporting mechanisms and is going to ensure that platforms educate their users on no-go areas of content. He said that the government will create necessary deterrents to make it harder for people to violate the law in India. “If necessary down the road like I said the DIA [Digital India Act] or any other regulation that is required, we will enact,” he mentioned.

Delay in rules around children’s safety: “All good intentions when legislated too hurriedly without adequate thought certainly find themselves very limited in terms of their scope or find themselves with loops that are then exploited by people,” Chandrasekhar said discussing the delay in the rules surrounding consent frameworks for children under the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023. He said that the framework for age verification would have to be future-ready and would need to be tested for the various scenarios that would be thrown at the framework.

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