Draft of Digital India Bill to Replace Information Technology Act, Regulate Digital Services

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The Centre is set to release a draft of the Digital India Bill in the first week of June, according to Minister of State for Electronics and IT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar. The upcoming legislation aims to regulate various digital services, including social media platforms, as part of the government’s efforts to replace the decades-old Information Technology Act, 2000.

Chandrasekhar made the announcement during the second ‘pre-draft’ consultation, following the initial session held in March. The Digital India Bill forms a crucial component of the comprehensive framework of technology regulations being developed by the Centre. This framework also includes the draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022, Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, and a policy for non-personal data governance.

During the consultation, the minister emphasized that the government was contemplating whether online platforms should continue to enjoy safe harbor protections granted to them under the IT Act, 2000, or if these protections should be made conditional. Currently, under Section 79 of the IT Act, intermediaries such as social media platforms are immune from legal liability for third-party content as long as they adhere to certain due diligence measures, including content takedown upon government directive.

However, with the introduction of the Information Technology Rules of 2021 and subsequent amendments, additional conditions have been imposed on this immunity. Most recently, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology stated that social media platforms must remove government-flagged content, verified by a yet-to-be-notified fact-checking body. Failure to comply could result in the platforms becoming liable for the content and facing legal action.

Considering the rapidly evolving nature of online platforms, Chandrasekhar highlighted a fundamental question being deliberated by the Centre: whether safe harbor protections should exist for these platforms at all.

The forthcoming Digital India Bill will also encompass the regulation of emerging technologies, including ChatGPT, with a focus on mitigating user harm. The Indian Express previously reported that the government was examining various forms of harm, such as misinformation, cyberbullying, doxxing, and identity theft, among others. In December 2022, the same publication revealed that the Digital India Act could classify intermediaries and establish separate norms for them, potentially including fact-checking platforms. Chandrasekhar’s presentation during the consultation confirmed this classification.

The Digital India Bill will additionally explore the establishment of an effective adjudicatory mechanism. This mechanism aims to provide easy access, timely remedies for citizens, resolution of cyber disputes, and the development of cyber jurisprudence.

Overall, the release of the draft Digital India Bill signifies the Centre’s commitment to modernize and streamline digital governance, addressing key concerns surrounding online platforms, user harm, and emerging technologies.

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