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Absence of Digital Regulator

  • IASbaba
  • January 22, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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GOVERNANCE/ ECONOMY

Topic: General Studies 2,3:

  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment.

Absence of Digital Regulator

Context: India today has over 500 million active internet users, who consume the highest volume of data in the world (average of 25GB per month) and pay the lowest rates in the world (average price of $0.30 per GB vs $8 in the US).

From a tele-density of 2% in 1995 to 12% in 2005 to over 90% in 2020, things have come a long way. This massive rise in the use of the mobile internet helped lay the foundation for many businesses, besides delivering governance efficiently.

India urgently needs an evolved regulatory framework which empowers the consumer to utilise this digital transformation without being vulnerable to data security threats.

What issues arise in the absence of regulator?

  • Data Sovereignty: India’s consumer internet is dominated by American Big Tech. Absence of regulator is therefore an associated issue of Sovereignty.
  • Implications on Freedoms: Presence and absence of regulator has implications for freedom of expression because its content rules and broader policy determinations will determine our online public squares. 
  • Continuation of offences: Repeated offences on data breaches and sharing of data between platforms have been ignored — in the absence of a regulator. 
  • Complexity of Regulation: India has conventionally resorted to broad trade and market restrictions — such as blocking — rather than nuanced regulation of the digital space. 
  • Regulation can be misconstrued as de-globalisation: In a digitally integrated world, globalisation of ideas and information has helped economies find novel ways to power growth and inclusion. Denying digital access to certain services be it through app bans or internet shutdowns, is an act of digital de-globalisation.
  • Existing regulations misused: Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, which gives the government the provision to block public access to specific webpages, websites and mobile applications, has been used extensively, and often without accountability. In 2020 alone, India lost $2.8 billion due to internet shutdowns.
  • Proper Governance framework will act as propeller of growth: A strong and consistent governance framework together with a digitally empowered Indian consumer will be a great step in building an Atmanirbhar Bharat.
  • Proportionate Governance required: Supreme Court, in 2019, acknowledged that internet access is integral to the right to freedom of speech and expression. Any restriction on internet access must pass the test of proportionality, and suggested the evolution of a rules-based mechanism to govern the internet

Way Ahead

  • As the government evolves its policies to empower a digital India, a comprehensive national security law needs to be brought in, which thrives on compliance rather than bans as a regulation mechanism.
  • One way to empower consumers is by creating mechanisms to ensure inter-operability, by making it easier to switch services from one platform to another.

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