We have prepared our legislative brief on digital rights for the Monsoon Session 2022 of the Indian Parliament. In our brief, we highlight some of the focus areas within the larger issues of digital rights, data governance, increased digitalisation in the absence of robust rights-based policies, and other concerns that call for extensive deliberation in the Houses of Parliament.
The Monsoon Session of the Indian Parliament commenced on July 18, and as per bulletins by the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha secretariats, it will end on August 18.
The previous Budget Session of the Parliament saw several key issues being taken up as part of the budget deliberations in both the Houses. Even though the House was adjourned sine die a day ahead of schedule, the Lok Sabha worked for 123% of its scheduled time and Rajya Sabha for 90%. In our review of the Budget Session, we had previously analysed the budgetary allocations for the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (“MeitY”).
Though the Prime Minister called for the Members to put aside party politics, this session is expected to be a confrontational one, as issues like the agnipath scheme, demolitions drives, raids on members of the opposition, allegations of use of spyware and planting of evidence, rising inflation and unemployment are expected to come to the fore. While there is speculation that the Draft Data Protection Bill, 2021 and new legislation to replace the Information Technology Act, 2000 might be tabled in the House this time, they have not been included in the Lok Sabha List of Business as of July 15, 2022.
Potential areas of parliamentary deliberation for the upcoming session
- Slow growth in internet subscribers and widening inequality in access
Telecom subscribers declined between January and March 2022. The number of internet subscribers increased by 0.07%, i.e., the lowest quarter-on-quarter growth rate since March 2020. The digital divide in internet access has deepened with the change in the scale of online learning brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Growing concerns around freedom of speech and expression of online users
Despite the cross-sectoral criticism and court-ordered stays, the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 continue to be in force. MeitY has proposed amendments to Part I and II of the IT Rules, 2021 that perpetuate the illegalities and raise independent concerns through the GAC’s creation which is infeasible, lacks legal basis, and may lead to overbroad censorship.
- An amendment to revamp the Competition Commission of India to "address the needs for new age markets."
The Union is set to table The Competition (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in Monsoon Session for introduction, consideration and passing. The Bill seeks to carry out certain essential structural "changes in the governing structure of the CCI and changes to substantive provisions to address the needs for new age markets." Several civil society organisations, including IFF, have previously called for the much-required revamp to hold large data and technology companies accountable.
- Inconsistency and lack of transparency around MeitY’s public communications
In February 2022, MeitY published the “Draft India Data Accessibility & Use Policy, 2022”, to which substantial changes were made during the consultation period without any public acknowledgement. Later, on May 30, 2022, the UIDAI issued an advisory on a MeitY letterhead, asking the public to not share photocopies of their Aadhaar card, and withdrew it on the same day. In June 2022, a notice seeking comments on the proposed draft amendments to the IT Rules, 2021 was withdrawn on the same day. On June 06, 2022, it reissued a similar document and a press note, which has no legal effect.
This is just a sneak peek at some of the issues we have covered in-depth in our brief, including the connectivity and digital accessibility data, implementation of schemes, developments in significant areas of digital governance, the various consultations held in the previous quarter, milestone events in technology policy and issues requiring urgent parliamentary interventions such as surveillance over sanitation workers, misuse of social media by political parties, concerns around freedom of speech online and resultant bodily integrity in the physical space. For more analysis, statistics, and insight into future legislative developments related to digital rights, see here!
- IFF’s Legislative Brief on Digital Rights - Monsoon Session 2022 (link)
- IFF’s Legislative Brief on Digital Rights - Budget Session 2022 (link)
- Prior legislative briefs (link)