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India needs a new digital law to replace outdated IT Act, should set the bar for an open and safe internet: Rajeev Chandrasekhar

The junior IT minister also indicated that the government will spend more time deliberating on the Data Protection Bill.

India needs a new digital law because our current legislation, the Information Technology (IT) Act, is two decades old, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on February 16 at the Nasscom Tech and Leadership Forum 2022.

The IT Act, 2000, currently governs most aspects of India’s digital landscape such as intermediary regulation, cybercrime, and e-commerce. The IT Rules, 2021, which were notified in February last year to regulate social media, streaming and news media platforms were framed as subordinate legislation to the IT Act.

What should the new digital law take into consideration?

1. Should be flexible and evolvable: Chandrasekhar explained that any future legislation for the internet space should not be rigid and focused on the present and should rather be flexible with scope for a wider interpretation given the evolving nature of technology.

“It is important to get the next bit of legislation very right. And I don’t mean very right in terms of the details of the right as much as the ability for it to be flexible and evolvable. I think we would be making a big mistake if we move into legislation that is very hard coded, very embedded in terms of principles that may not be necessarily evolvable and current.” – Rajeev Chandrasekhar

2. India must be part of the global digital economy: Chandrasekhar explained that India must be part of the global digital economy and owing to the nature of the internet, data will inevitably flow between jurisdictions and countries. “There is no such thing as being an island of safety and harmony and tranquillity in cyberspace. That just does not exist,” Chandrasekhar said. These are interesting comments especially in light of the data localisation and restrictions on cross-border data transfers proposed in the Data Protection Bill 2021, which signal the opposite.

3. Should set the bar for open and safe internet:Chandrasekhar said that the new digital law should set the bar in terms of what jurisprudence around the internet should be like. The law should also teach the world how to manage a safe and open internet, he said.

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“India must take the lead. We are the largest connected market in the world. And even if you want to include China, we are still one of the largest markets and one of the largest connected democracies in the world. And we have a lot to teach the world in terms of how we manage digitization, increase digital adoption, inclusion and access to all but at the same time, ensure that the internet is safe, trusted, open and accountable.” – Rajeev Chandrasekhar

4. Should signal to the world that India’s cyberspace is safe and laws are clear: “The world needs to get a signal that the Indian cyberspace is safe, trusted, open, accountable and most importantly, very predictable in terms of what the jurisprudence around it is. And I think that is our mission and that is our goal and we will work at it,” Chandrasekhar said.

5. Should have as many public consultations as possible: Chandrasekhar said that any new law must have as much public consultation as possible. He gave the example of the Data Protection Bill, for which the IT Ministry has been continually receiving feedback and comments.

6. Should not affect the momentum of start-up ecosystem: The new law should not affect the growth of India’s start-up ecosystem, Chandrasekhar said.

“We want to make sure that the momentum of our start-up ecosystem is not blunted by even one percentage if the regime hints at a higher degree of compliance costs and higher degree of compliance bureaucracy.” – Rajeev Chandrasekhar

The government still working on the Data Protection Bill

Chandrasekhar also spoke about India’s Data Protection Bill and the Joint Parliamentary Committee’s report, which were both tabled in the parliament in December last year:

1. Origin of the Bill is about three years old: The provenance of the Data Protection Bill is about three years old and a significant amount of changes have happened since then because of which many people are suggesting the Bill needs to be further improved and discussed, Chandrasekhar said.

2. Is the bill evolvable? People are also looking at if the bill “meets the full spectrum of the need to be evolvable and flexible given the changes in the future,” Chandrasekhar added.

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3. We will continue to have conversations for a little longer: Chandrasekhar suggested the government will spend more time deliberating on the Data Protection Bill and taking into consideration feedback:

“The bill has been referred back to the ministry as you know, and I have been flooded with letters from all kinds of industry associations critical of it, supporting it and so on and so forth. So we will continue this conversation for a little bit longer because I would not want to just rushing into something. I have to then go back with more amendments and correct things and so on.”


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