Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology’s (MeitY’s) second public consultation on the proposed Digital India Bill provided greater clarity in terms of the scope of the law, its construction and the larger intent behind its enactment. The new law’s ambit will be much wider, with the intent to make the internet a safer place and at the same time optimise the opportunities that the existing and emerging technologies have to offer.
However, is it possible for a single legislation to achieve this expansive goal? Are the principles on which the new law is being built holistic enough to cover all the key regulatory considerations? Are there any crucial aspects that we are missing and what should be the implementation roadmap for this law? These are some of the questions that we must ponder upon during this policy making process.
Effective Redressal Of Online Harms
Addressing the alarming surge of online transgressions, such as child pornography, cyberstalking, doxing, catfishing, among others, stands as the central objective of the emerging law. An integral proposal driving this initiative is an increase in the due diligence requirements that intermediaries must meet to avail the Safe Harbour protection, which is the touchstone of free and open internet, and if diluted, may result in greater censorship online.
On another note, while greater accountability and responsiveness of platforms is paramount to ensure efficient redressal of grievances, the approach towards a more holistic resolution of online challenges necessitates shared responsibility and clear delineation of duties of all stakeholders.
This has already been recognised by some of the jurisdictions like Singapore and Australia where policies are being formulated with focus on just redressal but also rehabilitation and adequate safeguards to prevent re-victimisation through the collaborative efforts of platforms as well as the civil society including caregivers, legal aid counsellors, etc. This is a new and innovative approach that India must also consider integrating in its upcoming law to make its response to online harms more grounded and effective.
Sustainable Regulation Of AI
The scope and potential of AI is expanding, more so with the advent of generative AI, as such technologies have evolved to integrate seamlessly into traditional processes and functions. Innovations such as ChatGPT have the potential to revolutionise industries and automate multiple basic tasks that were previously done by humans.
This will enhance efficiency and productivity, reduce costs and open up new opportunities. Rapid expansion of these technologies have also led to concerns around algorithmic biases, data privacy, user safety, job displacement as well as intellectual property. These challenges necessitate attention from policymakers and the industry alike to ensure that the harms are mitigated and AI evolves to be a technology for furthering social good and advancing economic welfare.
To this end, it will be important that the new law prescribes sustainable co-regulatory models to regulate AI and other emerging technologies, which will help in addressing the concerns without stifling innovation.
Establishing principle-guided norms to navigate AI's evolution could catapult India into a leadership position in global AI development. Countries worldwide, like the European Union with its newly enacted AI Act, are already making strides in this direction. This Act uses a risk-based classification, determining the extent of regulation required for various AI systems and offering principle-based guidance for stakeholders across the AI's life-cycle, catering to different risk grades.
A Law For The Present And Future
It appears that as part of the formulation of the Digital India Bill, the government will seek inspiration from jurisdictions that are revamping (or have revamped) their own technology laws. While we must incorporate learning as much as possible, we should also be mindful of separating the good from the bad and the ugly.
Take, for instance, the UK Online Safety Bill, which has already sparked speculations about unintended adverse effects. In its quest to combat online harms, the Bill demands intermediaries to employ “accredited technology” to pinpoint harmful content, even on private messaging platforms. This could pose a threat to end-to-end encryption, compelling encrypted messaging platforms to potentially jeopardise their security in order to adhere to these guidelines.
What amplifies the concern is the possibility that these measures may not effectively counter online safety threats, as offenders could merely migrate to dark-web sites or even create their own encrypted systems, further complicating law enforcement efforts. Accordingly, it is cardinal that we evaluate the efficacy of any proposed policy intervention carefully before formalising it.
Given the myriad challenges and opportunities involved, developing a law for the present and future of the internet space is definitely a mammoth task. However, as long as we ensure that our law has the ability to adapt to the changing times and needs and its foundations are embedded in the ideals of openness, trustworthiness and human development, we are bound to succeed.
Kazim Rizvi is the Founding Director of The Dialogue, a think-tank working in the intersection of tech, society and policy. Shruti Shreya is Programme Manager, The Dialogue, and leads the platform regulation vertical. Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.