Safe harbour clause let big tech evade responsibility: Rajeev Chandrasekhar

ByDeeksha Bhardwaj
Jun 09, 2023 03:46 PM IST

Union minister of state for electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar promised the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government will undo the damage done when the Congress was in power

The previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s introduction of a safe harbour provision in the Information Technology (IT) Act allowed big tech such as Facebook (now Meta), Twitter, and Google to evade responsibility for cyber harm inflicted on users, Union minister of state for electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on Friday.

Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar. (PTI)
Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar. (PTI)

He promised the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government will undo the damage done when the Congress was in power from 2004 to 2014. Chandrasekhar said the amendments including Section 79 for immunity to intermediaries from persecution for third-party content in 2008 expanded the scope of the IT Act and provided greater protection to them. “UPA let big tech get away with user harm by introducing safe harbour...elaborated in section 79 of the IT Act... brought in as amendment in 2008,” Chandrasekhar said at a press conference.

HT reached out to Congress leader Jairam Ramesh for a response to Chandrasekhar’s comments but he was not immediately available.

Chandrasekhar, who has repeatedly questioned the need for a safe harbour, said the government is working on legislation that will form a holistic regulatory space to ensure user safety. He referred to the Data Protection Bill and said that the earlier version was dropped because it was too complex and a new simpler will be introduced in Parliament soon.

Chandrasekhar said amendments to the IT Act, which will now be part of the new Digital India Bill, have been in the pipeline for over two years. “The bill will be finalised only after several rounds of discussions and consultations.”

He said artificial intelligence (AI)-based tools need to ensure user safety and those found in violation will not be allowed to operate in India. “We will regulate AI the same way we regulate any emerging tech. Either they will mitigate user harm or they will not be allowed to operate,” he said. He added while AI may lead to job losses, the focus right now was on task-oriented AI.

Experts have called for the Digital India Bill to factor in AI. The bill will replace the IT Act as the main legislation.

At a public consultation in Mumbai last month, Chandrasekhar said the bill drafted after several rounds of discussions will address expanding the number of categories of intermediaries and differentiating between them on the basis of risk of user harm and the number of users.

Chandrasekhar said the bill will harmonise separate legislation. He said it will consider whether there is a need for a safe harbour to counter potential user harms, ensure an open, safe, and trusted internet, grievance redressal, formulate global standard cyber laws, and address challenges thrown up by emerging technologies.

The bill proposes ways to deal with things that could harm users such as revenge porn, cyber flashing, defamation, cyberbullying, and doxxing. It suggests age-gating addictive technologies and protecting the data of minors on social media and gaming applications.

It may also contain ownership standards for anonymised data stored by intermediaries, disclosure norms for the data collected, and monetisation rules for user and platform-generated content.

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