Rajeev Chandrasekhar: ‘Need to relook laws to de-risk Indian internet, make it difficult for Big Tech to be weaponised’

Soon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, Big Tech firms and intermediaries announced either partial or total stoppage of services for Russia and its citizens. This, Minister of State for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar believes, is a dangerous precedent, and brings back focus on the power that such platforms wield. Edited Excerpts from an interview with Aashish Aryan and Liz Mathew:

How do you view the events in Russia and Ukraine vis-à-vis the internet companies?

The recent events in Ukraine and Russia have again in a lot of ways drawn the attention to the power of platforms on the internet, the power of some governments to direct platforms on the internet to take decisions that are partisan and effectively what I call the weaponisation of the internet.

Two phenomena are very visible. One is the weaponisation of the internet, of which we were aware of 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.

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 narrative they put out. They are absolutely subject to sovereign influence and it can make them weaponised against a country or for another country. We have to completely relook at our legislative and jurisprudential framework in that context.

There are draft laws with respect to data and cybersecurity pending? What does a re-look mean?

We must first create a national data governance framework, establish some principles of law, define the role of these intermediaries and what should be the nature of the relationship between the intermediaries and the user. We must define what should be the consumer rights. Are they more than the fundamental rights that they have? Do we need a magna carta of consumer rights on cyberspace so that every man, woman and child can consider the internet to be a safe, trusted and open space?

So the jurisprudential legal principles have to be built on that before we go on saying we need to come up with this law or that. We will be belling the cat on one corner without addressing the overall piece. We have framed issues, such as regulation of ad tech.

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. It is validating our thinking what we have been talking about in terms of a new digital law, the need for a data governance framework.

We will create a framework, which will have the data protection law, the digital law and the cybersecurity statutes. 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.

We are not averse to Big Tech. But we have to make sure that our rules and laws in India do not permit Big Tech platforms to be weaponised deliberately, wittingly, unwittingly, by any other force.

Until such a governance framework is put into place, how will the government protect the cyberspace?

You cannot. With a law that is 20 years old, you cannot do it. You have to accept that. That is why the urgency to become an Aatmanirbhar cyberspace that you need an overarching framework, data protection law, cybersecurity policy, along with the basic tool kits for cybersecurity. The weaponisation of the internet and the use of the internet where the biggest and most dominating platforms are of an external jurisdiction is an area of concern for public policymakers.

Therefore, we have to ensure that the internet is diversified and is open, safe and trusted, as well accountable. How do you achieve that? Through a series of new legislation, laws, rules and additional policy framework that addresses the issue of security. I do not have an instant gratification response on what will we do tomorrow.

As of today, how prepared are we?

We have to be clear that unlike in the past, where laws lagged innovation, here law should be in lock-step with innovation and that is the only protection we can have. 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.

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