The Emergence of India’s Digital Policy

    • By,
      Malcolm Hendricks – Student, Kautilya

For a very long time, India has been demanding the need to have a robust data protection law. With the incremental expansion of the big tech companies and their stories of exploiting consumer data, it has become imperative for the enactment of such a law. There have been rigorous discussions on the evolution of digital policy and, from a larger perspective, the current digital framework and infrastructure in light of the growing digital industry. The focus on the need for a digital policy has given way to an exponential rise of the digital economy which is not only expanding but becoming more volatile as the current digital era progresses. Despite India being renowned for its Information Technology industry globally, the country’s data sovereignty has long been questioned due to the lack of digital regulations. Therefore, there is a need for young policymakers to make greater investments and interventions in this domain to support the development of a data policy and regulatory infrastructure that is significantly more sustainable and equitable.

It appears to be an exciting moment to be working in this area, to empower the concepts of redefining and redesigning the data policy space. After four iterations, the government recently issued a new Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022, that takes a more streamlined approach to deal with “personal data” than its predecessors. The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill addresses pertinent issues relating to the legitimate use of personal data, restrictions on the collection of sensitive information, data confidentiality, data storage, and responsibility for the individual processing of personal data. Despite several alterations, there have been unsuccessful attempts to propose data protection law since 2012. As the digital market expands rapidly, there are a growing number of gaps that need immediate attention. In retrospect, earnest attempts have been made to guide national policies in the right direction for the digital sector, which has been increasingly robust since the 2000s. However, the question which arises here is, if the data policies and framework are becoming more and more coherent then why is there a desire for greater proactivity and vigilance towards the digital framework and policy?

There are no finite answers to address the concerns of the digital space. One among them is to fix as well as monitor the exploitation of consumer data by big tech giants to maximize and achieve their desired goals. Another notable intervention can be the checks on inequality and power imbalance aspects within the digital domain in terms of the resources and infrastructure available which is widening day by day. The adoption of green digital policies which would ensure digital inclusion and sustainable development which would in the long run prove to have a holistic impact on the digital space. This would assist and synchronize the digital transition, mitigate negative consequences such as bridging the digital gap and encourage digital innovation that accelerates environmental and social sustainability.

It’s not as though the world economies and governing bodies haven’t taken cognizance of these afore mentioned prominent issues and imbalances which currently plague the existing digital infrastructure. Among the leading states and economic unions, India too has made significant strides in the digital policy domain by recently issuing a new draft of the ‘National Data Governance Framework’ which tries to address some of the issues as well as promote the research and innovation ecosystem. Even while the existing policies within the proposed framework aim to have a significant influence on a variety of sectors, they do not eliminate or lessen the sociological, ethical, and technical disparities. Instead, they fail to decrease the common deficit of overall growth, impeding the advancement of an economy toward obtaining a sustainable end. India ought to develop a framework that is not just consent-based and sustainable, but also non-restrictive, similar to a license-based structure where the intermediary pays the government a set sum in exchange for the right to collect data from the data subject.

It is easy to acknowledge all of the difficulties that currently exist inside the digital framework as well as those that have emerged and are affecting the global order. However, the challenge for policymakers is not just to acknowledge but to mitigate such issues and make proposals to design feasible and effective solutions. The idea is to rework the basics, re-examine the existing infrastructure, understand the crux and ultimately redesign to assimilate the overall digital framework to reach the desired outcome through the means of a feasible and efficient policy. Thus, as the lives of citizens and businesses alike continue to be affected due to the lack of digital legislation, there is an imperative need for a robust mechanism to be placed comprehensively.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.