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Panel formed by Modi’s office to fix India’s internet, from fake news to payments

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A PMO-appointed committee has been tasked with studying a broad range of internet-related issues, and come up with frameworks to solve them.

New Delhi: A high-powered committee appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office is studying a wide range of online challenges such as fake news and malicious content to come up with a framework to tackle them.

It is also examining whether a new law is needed to address issues related to digital broadcasting.

The four-member panel is headed by ministry of electronics and information technology (MEITY) secretary Ajay Sawhney, and has already met at least three times since May 2018.

The challenges this committee has been asked to study are global, but India, at present, is lagging behind other countries in tackling them.

“There are several cyber space-related concerns faced by Indian users such as secure transactions and internet payment systems,” a senior government official told ThePrint. “Also, there is a complete absence of legal frameworks for regulating social media intermediaries and digital content, some of which can also have national security ramifications.”

Also read: This Delhi Police ‘Batmobile’ is out to catch the fake news bad guys

Mandate of the committee

Officially, the panel is supposed to address “Investment in critical national infrastructure and issues related to digital broadcasting”. But sources have told ThePrint that it is supposed to cover:

– Fake news.

– Malicious online content.

– Targeted profiling of social media users.

– Data misuse.

– Foreign investment in strategic areas and digital assets.

– Cross-border access to data and risk identification on digital platforms.

– Whether digital broadcasting needs a new law to regulate it.

The last point has been a matter of concern for the government. Smriti Irani, the previous I&B minister, had set up a nine-member committee to regulate online media, which has now been scrapped because its mandate has been subsumed by the PMO-appointed panel.

MEITY has engaged a law firm to assist the panel, which is preparing a draft report on the highlighted issues, and will hold consultations with various ministries.

Challenges before the panel

It is understood that MEITY has identified several challenges in online safety and content regulation. These include:

– Absence of a legal framework for identifying malicious online content and its sources.

– No regulation or penalties for online news content.

– Lack of a framework to deter voter or user manipulation, such as the Cambridge Analytica case.

– No yardsticks to decide what is trustworthy online news or advertising.

Cyber crime

Another challenge the panel is studying is cyber crime, as well as problems faced by Indian law enforcement agencies in tackling crimes committed through internet service providers based outside India.

The associated ministries — which have identified nodal officers — will be preparing a white paper on sector-specific issues and incorporate international best practices.

Social media regulation

Highly-placed sources said the panel will try and set up a framework to fix responsibility for digital platforms such as Facebook — for example, who should consumers approach with their grievances?

A separate government panel headed by home secretary Rajiv Gauba is learnt to have recommended action against India representatives of social media giants if they fail to remove “objectionable” content from their platforms.

Also read: Real news can be a bigger problem than fake news

The Centre had informed Parliament in the monsoon session that various social media platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, had blocked 1,662 URLs until June 2018 out of a total of 2,245 links recommended by the government.

Issues like data misuse, fake news and targeted profiling (such as the ads shown to a particular consumer on Facebook or Google) will also be addressed.

Investment and national security

Foreign investment is another key challenge area that the PMO-appointed panel is studying. There are currently no restrictions on foreign investment in digital media, nor a mechanism to examine foreign investments which can affect national security. No procedure has been laid down for sharing classified information, and neither is there a tax framework for digital transactions.

The panel will also study the existing legal and administrative policies relating to investment in the IT sector, and the possibility of deploying technology in organisations of sensitive and strategic interest.

Data protection

The committee will also review the existing frameworks for the protection of critical information (such as Aadhaar data), data storage infrastructure for sensitive sectors, and preventing disruption of essential services.

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