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Creating a culture of rule-based accountability among large digital platforms is important to ensure that internet remains open and safe for all users, Minister of State for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on Monday. India is emerging as a large internet economy with 80 crore Indians online, a number that is expected to reach 120 crore, he said.
According to him, internet is driving the digital economy and the laws and rules around it will be “measured, consultative and looking at the future”. “Internet for all of the good things represents the ability to deliver good governance, ability for last person in democracy to reach out to government… but also represents significant growth in things we refer to as user harm and criminality and so policy making has to address… grow the good, and address the bad in a manner that is transparent and effective,” he said.
Releasing the FAQs on intermediary guidelines, Chandrasekhar said that as the cyberspace is evolving, so is the nature of “good and bad” on cyberspace. Government’s policy making is aimed at ensuring that interest of users are protected by way of greater accountablity of platforms, he added. “Internet must always remain open… openness means it is bereft from not just state and government influence but is also free from dominant big tech influence and one of ways to normalise that is to create among bigger platforms, a culture of rules-based accountability to their users,” he said.
Accountability and openess are important attributes of cyberspace, he said, adding that in India, the biggest stakeholders of internet are millions of Indians who are using it. The cyberspace “cannot be, should not and will not be” a space where laws do not reach, he asserted. On the requirement for messaging platforms to trace the originator of messages where needed and privacy-related concerns that followed, the minister explained that government’s view on first originator is that when a criminality occurs online, the source of criminality needs to be traced, backed by a legal valid order.
“We believe that there are methods without even remotely approaching encryption or decryption that can cause a platform to detect who originated criminality. That is what first originator is about,” he elaborated. Government has made its position amply clear that cyberspace “cannot become a place where criminality finds refuge”, he pointed out.
On whether messaging apps Signal and Telegram are compliant with the IT rules, the minister said the ministry does not operate on inventory of significant social media intermediaries or intermediaries per se, and intervention comes in where complaints are left unaddressed. “When a user reports back to IT ministry that they have submitted grievance with a particular platform and that platform is not responding, then there is a room for us to intervene, and explore what situation is,” he said.
He noted that the ministry considers itself a custodian of Article 14, 19, 21, and will “vigorously” ensure that right to privacy, right to non-discrimination and right to free speech, are protected. On the recent whistleblower allegations that Facebook’s system were fuelling hate speech and misinformation, the minister said he has earlier too spoken about the need for algorithmic accountability.
“Whether that will find place in rules or new digital laws… but these are areas we have to discuss publicly, discuss among industry, users to evolve a road map… algorithms that infringe Article 14, 19, 21 of any citizen is still an infringement and so our main job is to protect right to free speech, right to privacy and right to non-discrimination, online just as government does offline,” he said.
In case where algorithms or any conduct of any intermediary comes in the way of users’ rights, he said it was a matter for government or for law to deal with “if not today in future”. Stating that he was averse to bringing litigation into a relation between policy makers and intermediaries unless “absolutely essential”, the minister said government is committed to growing the internet space.