Digital India Bill draft to be released in June: Centre

The Bill may significantly undo safe harbour, the principle protecting social media firms from legal liability for content posted by users

May 23, 2023 06:00 pm | Updated 07:53 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar. | Photo Credit: Reuters

A full-fledged draft of the Digital India Bill, the law that will be the biggest revamp of laws governing the Internet since the Information Technology Act, 2000 and its subsequent amendments, will be released in the first week of June, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said in Mumbai on May 23.

“The idea is certainly to have this done in this calendar year,” Mr. Chandrasekhar said, indicating that the government intends to pass the law by the winter session of Parliament. “And we will be moving quite quickly as a government and as a Ministry.” He noted that much of the law will be a “framework” based on foundational principles, following which the Act would be “regulated through rules”. 

Also read: Explained | Highlights of the proposed Digital India Act, 2023 

Regulating AI

Mr. Chandrasekhar pointed favourably to OpenAI CEO Sam Altman’s testimony before the United States Congress, where the executive behind ChatGPT pushed for limits on the artificial intelligence (AI) industry. “Our approach right now in the draft is about regulating [AI] through the prism of user harm,” Mr. Chandrasekhar said.

“So we will say these are the no go areas for these technologies. That is our thinking at the moment,” said. He added that the approach would be to create “guardrails” for high risk AI systems.

“It is good to see that the government is thinking about consolidating the patchwork of currently existing regulations into a consolidated, principle-based structure,” Rohit Kumar, founding partner at TQH Consulting, a public policy firm, said. “However, the mention of removing safe harbour is concerning as safe harbour is critical for growth and innovation in the digital economy.”

Sectoral regulation

Efforts of sectoral regulators, such as the Reserve Bank of India, wouldn’t be impacted by the the IT Ministry’s new technology legislation, Mr. Chandrasekhar said in response to a query. “Where there is a Ministry or a department that wants to go the extra mile, and create additional prescriptive guardrails, there will be no ban on that,” Mr. Chandrasekhar said. The Digital India Bill will “harmonise everything that is going on in the tech space,” he added.

“At the risk of being quoted here, which I’m sure I will be, I’m not a big fan of regulators in the sense that it should not create another layer of compliance for our start-ups and innovation ecosystem,” Mr. Chandrasekhar said at a different point. “I would rather it be something like what we have planned for the Data Protection Board, something that intervenes in an exceptional circumstance when there is something that requires adjudication or … independent intervention.”

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