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Cybersafety: Government plans regulatory clause in Digital Act Bill, hints ‘immunity clause’ not for all Internet firms

Mobile Internet Consumers

*The Indian Government moves to protect Internet consumers in the digital  space with a regulatory clause in IT Act – the Digital India Act  – that shows default exemption for Internet intermediaries or Service Providers, stating unless a platform is ‘absolutely dumb’ to curate or impact Web content through its algorithms, ‘there will be no protection’ for it

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

In a decisive move to safeguard consumers in cyberspace, the Indian Government has said it is planning to add a regulatory clause to the country’s extant Information Technology (IT) Act, otherwise known as The Digital India Act).

ConsumerConnect learnt the government noted the draft of the Digital India Act Bill, which shows that the default exemption for Internet intermediaries or Service Providers (ISPs) currently available under Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act of 2000, is now likely to be provided only on a “case-to-case basis”.

Photo: PGurus

The Centre is equally  planning to make a regulatory clause, which offers immunity from prosecution to Internet companies, including social media firms, in respect of user-generated content published on their platforms, more “the exception than the norm”.

On provision of safe harbour for Internet firms

According to the regulator, Section 79 of the IT Act provides that an intermediary shall not be responsible or liable for “any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted” on its platform.

However, the proposed Digital India Bill being considered for passage into law states that this immunity will be more “the exception than the norm.”

Officials in the Indian IT Ministry are of the opinion that since all Internet and social media intermediaries have the “power to influence” the content being shared through or on their platforms, they should not be “automatically eligible” for the immunity clause, ETtech report said.

A senior government official was quoted to have said: “Unless there is a platform which is absolutely dumb with no ability to curate or impact the content through your algorithms, there will be no protection for you.

“That will be a major criterion.”

Pushback expected from ISPs

Meanwhile, the latest move by the IT Centre to roll back the immunity from prosecution for any infractions in India’s digital space is expected to draw a sharp pushback from the internet industry, say experts.

Rohit Kumar, a founding partner at technology policy firm, The Quantum Hub, said: ‘One of the first things that the removal of Section 79 will trigger is over-compliance and censorship by social media and internet intermediaries.”

Experts also opined that smaller Internet intermediaries would need to invest more in sophisticated Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools and specialised teams to monitor content in the country’s digital ecosystem.

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