India turns to online regulation after scrapping personal data law

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A senior Indian government official has said he plans to move forward “as quickly as possible” with new legislation governing the internet after he abruptly dropped a controversial and long-awaited personal data protection bill last week. last week.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, India’s minister of state for electronics and information technology, also brushed off criticism from tech groups such as Meta and Google, which had complained about the bill’s compliance costs. and some of its provisions, in particular the obligation for companies to store data locally. in India.

“Big Tech has become accustomed over the last decade to little or no regulation, little or no control, and they’ve run away with things they shouldn’t have done,” Chandrasekhar told the Financial. Times. “Governments around the world were asleep at the wheel.”

India’s regulatory push comes after the EU passed landmark laws earlier this year that are expected to set the global standard for how big online platforms such as Amazon and Facebook should operate. The United States is among countries considering similar legislation, as regulators around the world crack down on the market power of the world’s biggest tech groups.

Chandrasekhar said tech companies are “basically protesting any form of control and regulation because they haven’t seen anything before.”

“This train has left the station – the New Delhi station – and Big Tech has to get used to the fact that openness, security, trust and accountability, which are the boundary conditions around which we develop policies, these boundary conditions are here to stay,” he added.

After five years of discussions on how to protect users’ data online, Narendra Modi’s government last week withdrew the Personal Data Protection Bill, which had received more than 90 amendments and recommendations from lawmakers.

India, the world’s largest democracy, has around 800 million internet users, a number its government estimates will reach 1.2 billion by 2026. However, its IT legislation has failed to keep up the pace of a growing digital economy involving both local start-ups and global technologies. groups, as well as growing concerns about user privacy, freedom of expression and the impact of technological applications on human rights.

Work on the project began after India’s Supreme Court recognized privacy as a fundamental constitutional right in a 2017 ruling on a case challenging the government’s Aadhaar digital ID system.

Along with complaints from tech companies about the bill, which was drafted in 2019, privacy advocates had warned that it would have given authorities carte blanche to access user data in areas deemed to be within the purview of privacy. national security.

Chandrasekhar said the government would now introduce a “much more focused data protection and privacy bill”, amend or redraft its 22-year-old IT law and come up with a comprehensive national data governance policy framework that would would deal with artificial intelligence, not personal data and datasets. India could also introduce a cybersecurity bill, he added.

“We want to do it as quickly as possible,” he said. “We don’t want to disrupt the momentum we have today in terms of start-ups and the innovation ecosystem for growth.”

Regarding the privacy concerns of human rights groups, Chandrasekhar said any legislation would give the state “the right to step in and seek information about a particular citizen” in cases involving areas such as law enforcement, national security, terrorism, pandemics or natural disasters. .

“This will be considered a reasonable exception to the fundamental right” of privacy, he added.

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