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Data protection bill should protect citizens without killing innovation

A friction is on the offing between the Indian government and top technology firms over the personal data bill.

Data protection bill should protect citizens without killing innovation
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Data protection bill should protect citizens without killing innovation 

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A friction is on the offing between the Indian government and top technology firms over the personal data bill. If some of the recommendations of the Joint Committee of Parliament (JPC) are accepted by the government, social media platforms will definitely face rising litigation risks. The biggest point of contention is the proposal to classify social media platforms as publishers. So, platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Whatsapp will stand to lose the safe harbour or immunity provided by the existing provisions under the Information Technology Act, 2000. Currently, the content published by the users doesn't create any liability for the platforms they post. However, the modified proposals if accepted will make these platforms liable.

Reports indicate that if the JPC proposals are accepted, global technology giants are likely to contest the law on the court. According to these platforms, such provisions work against the fundamental laws of internet as far third party is concerned. Apart these proposed provisions, there are also other such prescribed norms by the JPC which don't take many takers in the social media companies. For instance, inclusion of non-personal data in the privacy law along with the provisions for certifying hardware devices are the other contention areas.

India is burgeoning market for social media platforms across the world. With more than 700 million of internet users and 400 million smartphone users, the country is an envious position as far as growth prospects of internet economy is concerned. As the country is likely to roll out 5G network next year, this will give further fillip to the user base. Companies like Google and Facebook are witnessing rising revenues from their Indian operations.

However, Indian democracy requires a strong data protection and privacy law. Currently, Indian citizens' data is held in number of data bases such as Aadhaar, Passport Seva, upcoming Digital Health Mission. Such data can be misused for surveillance or commercial purposes by government agencies or private parties having access to those data bases. To protect privacy, it is, therefore, an imperative to have a strong data protection bill. As seen in previous instances, social media platforms being used as the vehicles for creating rift in the society, promote dangerous agendas and many more such nefarious activities. It has also been witnessed that these platforms connect people for many noble purposes, creating awareness on issues apart from giving a voice on many issues concerning their lives. Considering both pros and cons of the social media platforms, data privacy bill should find a fine balance to promote the good and banning the evil.

While unnecessary stringent regulations will kill a rising market for internet economy, laxity will not serve the Indian democracy in any manner. A flexible approach, therefore, is need of the hour. European countries and the US have strong data protection regulations. These norms not only protect their citizens, but also helps in thwarting the hegemony of technology giants on public lives. India should draw lessons from these regulations and come up with norms that protect its citizens without killing innovation in an increasingly digital economy.

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