Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, remarked in an interview with The Indian Express that there is a need to rethink local laws in order to de-risk Indian internet and make it harder for Big Tech businesses to be weaponized in any circumstance.
This remark comes in the wake of Big Tech companies and their subsidiaries declaring partial or complete service interruptions for Russia and its people soon after the war between Russia and Ukraine began.
Here are some of the important queries which were responded to by Rajeev Chandrasekhar.
The Russian Invasion of Ukraine and the Internet
When asked about his thoughts on the recent events in Russia and Ukraine in relation to internet companies, Rajeev Chandrasekhar noted that the recent events in Ukraine and Russia have drawn attention to the power of platforms on the internet, the power of some governments to direct platforms on the internet to make political decisions, and effectively what can be called the weaponisation of the internet.
As promised, here is the link to the full interview. Mos IT @Rajeev_GoI tells me & @MathewLiz why India urgently needs to “de-risk” Indian internet to prevent a weaponisation of big tech & intermediaries against the country’s interests.https://t.co/6GRNKIvISS
— Aashish Aryan (@cubscribe) March 28, 2022
“Two phenomena are very visible. One is the weaponisation of the internet, of which we were aware in some sense as we discussed user harm etc in the past. The second is what I call the phenomenon of the splinter-net. The internet is now increasingly being splintered driven by the power of some western countries,” he stated.
He maintained that regulations and rules were never considered since the internet was never intended to be used for anything other than the collective benefit. But currently, the perception of the internet has shifted from being solely for the public benefit to also including user damage. As a result, jurisprudence and law must adapt to handle this.
In his words, “These platforms have become so big, the power of these platforms and therefore the power that they represent on the internet is so dominant, that in the event of a conflict between two sovereigns, these platforms are playing roles and therefore are being weaponised.”
The fundamental principles of net neutrality, which is the openness of the internet, which was the founding idea of the early days, where the telecom service providers could not become internet gatekeepers, are now manifesting in the form of these large intermediaries becoming internet gatekeepers, as per Chandrasekhar. He emphasised that, while the pipelines may be diverse and uncontrollable, the platforms are now regulating internet access in a variety of harmful ways.
He noted that these platforms are completely susceptible to sovereign control, which may lead to their being weaponized against or for another country.
“It is clear today that we need Aatmanirbhar internet which says that don’t depend only on these platforms that have now demonstrated during the Russia-Ukraine war that they are not removed from state influence for all of the narratives they put out,” he added.
What does a relook at our legislative and jurisprudential framework mean?
It entails the formation of a national data governance framework, the adoption of some legal standards, the definition of the function of these intermediaries, including the nature of the interaction between the intermediaries and the consumer, according to him.
“We must define what should be the consumer rights…the jurisprudential legal principles have to be built on that before we go on saying that we need to come up with this law or that,” he stated. “We have to de-risk our Indian internet and that de-risking urgency has, in a sense, been amplified by what we are seeing in Ukraine-Russia,” he went on to add further.
Stressing on the originality of the approach, he said, “… we are now planning an architecturally-built cyberspace jurisprudence, rather than doing it piecemeal and a catch-up mode. Our approach now is exactly in keeping with the Aatmanirbhar Bharat principles and the success we have had in the fintech space and replicating it in other areas.”
According to Chandrasekhar, India is not opposed to Big Tech, but it must be ensured that the norms and regulations in India do not allow Big Tech platforms to be weaponized intentionally, wittingly, or inadvertently by any other force. “We cannot allow our cyberspace and digital economy to ever be undermined by anybody or any force outside our borders. That is the point of Aatmanirbhar internet,” he said.
Concerning the symmetry between the ease of doing business and the clampdown on digital weaponization
“There is no clamping down. Nobody clamps down on such weaponisation,” Chandrasekhar said. “I use the phrase weaponisation to understand the implication if you do not create an Aatmanirbhar Bharat and cyberspace. That is a real issue today that all policymakers should be concerned about,” he further added.
The Minister noted that public policymakers are concerned about the weaponization of the internet and the usage of the internet when the largest and most dominant platforms are of an external jurisdiction. He explained using the example of cryptocurrency legislation in India. He remarked that the Reserve Bank must govern this because otherwise, a mess would be created without a good grasp of how those will be controlled or how the exchange controls will be addressed.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar went on to explain that the internet is currently in a state of turmoil. This is because governments all around the globe have long permitted them to pretend to be innovators. All public officials must perceive the internet as both an innovator and a startup on the one hand, and as an area that requires extensive public policy interventions to assure user safety and non-weaponization of the internet on the other.
How prepared are we now for such weaponization?
“Our neighbours and state actors are actively using the internet against us. Kargil War was televised,” he responded. “Russia-Ukraine is now becoming a conflict where the internet is actively weaponised by both sides…What I am saying is that when two nations have gone head-to-head in conflict, they have, in addition to using tanks, bombs, jets and drones, actively used the internet,” Chandrasekhar further added.
He stated that, unlike in the past, when regulations lagged behind innovation, the law, in this case, should be in sync with innovation.
“The domestic laws must make it very difficult for the intermediaries who are jurisdictionally present in India, to be weaponised against the interest of India and its citizens. That can only be done through laws,” he said.
According to Rajeev Chandrasekhar, preventing the weaponization of the Internet and splinter networks, as well as preventing huge influence, monopolisation, and cartelization, is an equal public policy priority, and we need the “policy to keep pace rather than play catch up.”