Minister of state for information and technology (IT) Rajeev Chandrasekhar on Wednesday called for global coordination to make big tech companies like Facebook and Google accountable to the societies they serve and asserted that the country’s efforts to create some sort of accountability should not be spun as “anti-free speech”.
The minister also hinted that the introduction of the Bill on Data Protection will be delayed because the government does not want to “rush into” making it into a law and then amend it later.
The comments from the minister come amid concerns expressed in some quarters over frequent requests for removing of content or accounts on platforms such as Youtube, Twitter and Facebook from the government citing domestic exigencies, which is blamed as an assault on free speech.
“If we have to bring some sort of sanity and some consistency in the way big tech and these technology platforms are more accountable to the communities and societies they serve, countries will have to cooperate,” Mr Chandrasekhar said at the annual NTLF event organized by IT industry lobby NASSCOM.
Countries which call themselves as democracies and open societies which have open internet ought to come together and the cooperation can include protocols and frameworks of regulatory principles on aspects such as cybercrime and cybersecurity, he said.
“It should not be that if India does something that is called as anti-free speech… (attempts to) create some sort of accountability is spun as a challenge to free speech.” he said.
Stressing on the need for cooperation between countries, he said there is no such thing as being an Isle of harmony and tranquility in an interconnected world, because the very nature of the internet is such that one cannot “fool” herself into believing it is possible.
As the largest democratic consumer base, India will take the lead in the process of setting up such a framework.
“We have a lot to teach the world in terms of how we manage digitization, increase digital adoption, inclusion and access to all and at the same time ensure that the internet is open and accountable,” the tech entrepreneur-turned-politician said.
Replying to a question from NASSCOM president Debjani Ghosh, where she stressed on the need to get a law on data protection and cybersecurity to be passed at the earliest, the minister hinted that it may take some time.
Referring to the clearing of the law by a Parliamentary panel, the minister said his office is flooded with both support and criticisms of the bill, and many are also making more suggestions, due to which the discussions are continuing.
“We will continue this conversation for a little bit longer in my opinion because I would not want to rush into something and then go back with more amendments and correct things,” he said.
“It is important to get the next bit of legislation very right, and I do not mean very right in terms of details of being very right as much as the ability to be flexible and evolutionary. 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,” Mr Chandrasekhar added.
On concerns over privacy, the minister said that safety, trust, accountability and openness are contradictory principles, and often, convenience has influenced the choices, but for public policy, safety and trust is very important.
“While digitising our democracy is important, keeping our democracy safe and ensuring technology is deployed in a trusted manner and in an accountable manner is equally important,” he said.