Why in News?
In the first Cabinet meeting after reshuffle, the Union government allocated Rs 23,000 crores package for emergency response to Covid-19. “Rs 23,123-crore package to be given to deal with Covid-19.
Syllabus—GS2: Issues related to Union Executive
- The recent revamping of the Union of the council of minister led to the induction of the new Minister of Electronics & Information Technology i.e. replacing Ravi Shankar with Ashwini Vaishnav.
- The induction happened at a time when the Indian govt has been at loggerheads with social media giants & the pandemic has pushed the governance focus towards a digital environment.
- The new IT minister has the following mammoth tasks to tackle for advancing an agenda that promotes both digital rights & innovation in India,
The pivotal issue is of ACCESS
- At present, there is few arguments on the larger policy goal of increasing internet access.
- However, the performance has been dismal & targets are being missed.
- As per the latest TRAI’s report, till Dec 2020 the rural penetration rate is 34.7% with 300 million rural internet subscribers, which is less than 1/3rdof the urban penetration rate.
- More importantly, 37k villages in India are still not covered by telecom service providers.
- Existing digital literacy schemes have also witnessed slow progress.
- For instances, PMGDISHA has only certified 2.7 crore candidates out of identified 4.5 crore target candidates.
The issues of Internet Shutdowns:
- The data shows in 2012-2019, state govt have shut down the internet across India approximately 374 times, with 2019 & 2020 witnessing 106 & 129 shutdowns respectively.
- These shutdowns caused monetary losses of $2.4 billion.
- Hence there is widespread non-compliance by state govts with the SC’s Judgment in the Anuradha Basin Case that required publication of internet shutdown orders.
- There is no enforcement body formed for implementing net neutrality in India.
- Finally, for decades, there has been no policy proposal towards improvement on internet shutdowns & net neutrality.
The more contentious issue of SOCIAL MEDIA REGULATION:
- The previous Minister has considerably invested in the IT Rules 2021& these rules are jointly administered by Information & Broadcasting Ministry.
- The I&B Ministry regulates online news portals & video streaming services under these rules.
- However, rather than leading to clear regulatory principles, these have only led to uncertainty & dispute.
- At present 14 constitutional challenges are pending across India.
- These are the same IT rules that hope to regulate not only Twitter but substantial parts of the Indian internet.
- However, they emerge from the absence of any clear legislative power & end up hurting the user’s rights.
A significant concern of an increasing number of DATA BREACHES:
- According to a report, the average data breach in India costs Rs. 14 crore & the average time to both detect & contain a breach went up to 221 days & 83 days respectively.
- This indicates a significant amount of data loss for users with further risks of financial crimes.
- There have been no policy movements to address these lapses & this delay the incoming Data Protection Law.
- The current IT rules must be withdrawn & a broader & more comprehensive digital governance framework is implemented.
- Until then, the intermediary liability can be regulated by the pre-existing legislative frameworks refined by the SC in the Shreya Singhal case.
- Most importantly, the updating IT Act 2000 process must be made public.
- This involves large-scale consultations with various stakeholders as well as setting out a position paper on the future of the IT Act.
- A larger, participative vision for legislative action will resolve continuing issues of website blocking & encryption in a rights-respecting manner.
- To over Data breach issues & to protect Data Privacy, the new Minister have to effectively & efficiently plan in addressing privacy risks as more Indians get connected while services gather user data in a completely unregulated manner.
- It is high time for the new minister to ensure the growth of the Indian internet into a healthy forum that enshrines our Constitutional values. This is also reflected in the recent G-7 Open Societies Declaration that states “Human rights for all, both online & offline”.
The nature of problems presented by the digital environment requires large-scale reforms while recognizing its utility.Comment.