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India floats idea of dedicated tribunal to handle online offences

Consultation for the long-awaited Digital India Act is finally under way although the draft law's still not been revealed

India's government has started to consult some proposed details of its long-awaited Digital India Act, including a declaration that the bill needed a dedicated adjudicatory tool for offenses committed online.

A consultation document states “the adjudicatory mechanism should be easily accessible, deliver timely remedies to citizens, resolve cyber disputes, develop a unified cyber jurisprudence” and “enforce the rule of law online.”

The outline of the Act also mentions disclosure norms for data collection and standards for keeping data anonymous.

The Indian government held a consultation with stakeholders of the bill over the weekend, and according to the Ministry of Electronics and IT that meant industry representatives, lawyers, intermediaries and consumer groups were invited to talks.

According to the Ministry of Electronics & IT, minister of state Rajeev Chandrasekhar said the bill’s guiding principles include “managing the complexities of internet and rapid expansion of the types of intermediaries addressing the risks of emerging technologies, protecting citizen rights, managing and setting guardrails for the varied intermediaries on the internet.”

“Internet that began as a force of good has today become vulnerable to various types of complex user harms like catfishing, cyber stalking, cyber trolling, gaslighting, phishing, revenge porn, cyber-flashing, dark web, women and children, defamation, cyber-bullying, doxing, salami slicing, etc and there is an urgent need for a specialised and dedicated adjudicatory mechanism for online civil and criminal offences,” said the Minister.

Chandrasekhar also promoted a business-friendly internet, a concept difficult to achieve in conjunction with the laundry list of consumer-friendly objectives.

The Digital India Bill is set to replace the country's current IT Act, a 22 year old bill that is so outdated it doesn’t even mention the internet. India also currently lacks data protection legislation after its government scrapped a bill last November that had been in the works for years a after the government could not successfully negotiate its passage.

The Digital India Bill has already earned criticism on grounds to its scope is too broad. One kaw to protect everything from artificial intelligence to e-commerce, blockchain and data privacy is an ambitious goal.

Nonprofit Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) is one of those critics.

IFF policy director Prateek Waghre added that the emphasis on being “evolvable” and “rule-based” was concerning.

“Fancy word-smithing, but if this means that it will 'evolve' through & empower executive 'rule-making' which lacks legislative safeguards, then there is need for caution,” said Waghre.

Waghre also said that although the consultation as meant to be public, there was no publicly shared registration process and some attendees were initially turned away for not being on a list.

“I want to be optimistic about this process (I really do), but this victory-lapping & headline management should give us some reason to be skeptical,” said Waghre. “This is going to be a very complex legislation, requiring negotiating hard tradeoffs and even going back to the drawing board.” ®

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