Minister of State for IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar on Saturday said there is a fundamental reset underway in semiconductor, electronics and innovation world order post-COVID, and like-minded nations need to work together on a cooperative framework to shape the future of technology.
To safeguard citizens from online user harm, India has defined the boundary conditions of openness, safety and trust as well as accountability for platforms and companies to operate on the Indian Internet, the minister said and hoped that with global cooperation these principles will find a wider play among other nations. Chandrasekhar was speaking at a panel discussion on `Democracy’s Eleven: Protecting our Technology Future’ at the Raisina Dialogue 2023.
To a question on internet shutdown in India, the minister said that the internet shutdowns as percentage of the total number of online users in India as also the diversity or enormity of content ecosystem, is among the smallest in the world. Moreover, any internet shutdown or content takedown is lawfully prescribed and lawfully ordered by the government in exceptional circumstances under the law, the minister explained. Post-COVID, clearly the digital supply chains, value chains, innovation ecosystem, and critical technologies ecosystem are undergoing a deep structural change. And while there is indeed a re-ordering of the world order in semiconductors, electronics, and innovation, “no country is going to be able to do this alone”.
“A few years ago, we allowed in a sense, a concentration of these technologies and these products and the supply chains around certain economies. We blindly believed in the global economic system or the global system of trade, and we have realised post-COVID that those hopes or beliefs were not terribly sound. So I think, the first is that there is this re-ordering of the semiconductor world order, electronics world order and innovation world order that is underway,” he said. The minister advocated a cooperative framework among like-minded countries in shaping the future of technology.
“So I think what we are proposing in India and we’ve been steadily arguing for this for some years now, is that among like-minded countries there ought to be more of a co-operative framework…whether through that co-operative framework or prism, you look at future tech, critical tech…regulating the internet, the rules, and go/no-go areas,” he said. The minister asserted the post-COVID new world requires a much more institutional framework in how nations approach technologies, and the future of tech in particular. “That is what we are doing, that is what we believe in and we are looking at this re-ordered new world order in semiconductors, electronics and critical technologies, in terms of partnerships with like-minded nations,” he said.
There is no difference between democracy and digital democracy, and the fundamental values for physical world and cyberspace are the same, he said. “…the fundamental rights of our citizens are exactly what we transpose and expect to be implemented and available on the cyberspace…On the issue of internet shutdowns…and I think there is this narrative that’s being put out there deliberately because the numbers seem large, but as a percentage of the total number of internet users in India and the diversity and the enormity of the content ecosystem, the percentage is among the smallest in the world,” the minister said.
The laws have lagged behind innovation and progress and growth of big platforms, he said observing that governments across the world are trying to catch up with that lag over the last ten years. “Certainly in India, we are trying to catch up very fast,” Chandrasekhar said. The minister observed that the relationship between governments and tech, and governments and the Internet is undergoing a tectonic change. There is a “correction” in the way governments are responding to platforms, and what the platforms mean in terms of good as also user harm, and other issues.
“For many years, innovation was left unregulated because it was innovation. So you suddenly found, after a decade of being left alone, we suddenly have to deal with the so-called problems of big tech,” he said. India, he said, has clearly set the boundary conditions for platforms to operate. “…which is, that internet should be open. It should certainly not be like the Chinese internet. Internet should be a safe and trusted space,” he said citing the this is important given that 800 million Indians are using the internet, and the number is set to rise to 1.2 billion Indians by 2025-26. So, the internet being a safe and trusted space is an “article of faith” and a duty for the government to deliver to its citizens.
“And the third, is accountability principle, that regardless of whether you’re a big tech headquartered in a (particular) land or nation, if you do business in India, you have to be accountable,” Chandrasekhar said. Certain casted obligations of platforms operating in India are prescribed and enforced through the IT rules. “We have got nine categories of content and information that are absolutely no-go areas for platforms and there is a casted obligation on them, that if they want to enjoy the immunity and Safe Harbor, under our laws, from prosecution and continue to pretend that they are not publishers, they have to do these (comply with rules on) one to nine content issues…ranging from CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material) to misinformation at the other end of spectrum,” he said.
While there is that “predictable conversation” about whether or not it infringes on freedom of speech, or privacy, “our contention is that we will protect the fundamental rights of Indian citizens, but at the same time, we have a duty to maintain that internet is a safe and trusted space for all Indians”, he said.