India set to regulate AI, Big Tech, with sweeping Digital Act

Big semiconductor R&D strategy in the works, too

India's IT minister has started teasing the content of the nation’s long-awaited law covering all things digital.

Consultation on the Digital India Bill commenced in March 2023, when minister for entrepreneurship, skill development, electronics and technology. Rajeev Chandrasekhar observed that the nation's current IT Act is so old it doesn't even mention the internet.

In recent days the minister has revealed a draft of the bill will debut in early June, and hinted at its content.

One item sure to attract attention is oversight of AI, which Chandrasekhar told local media "will regulate them through the prism of user harm."

The minister added that India is aware of global interest in AI regulation, but "we have our own views on how AI should have guardrails" and won't be afraid to implement them even if they differ from norms established elsewhere. Other reports suggest the draft law will define high-risk AI systems and give them special regulation.

Another item of interest is how India will regulate online content, in light of proposals to give a government-operated fact checking service the power to order takedowns.

Another teaser in local media – unearthed by a chat with Chandrasekhar – suggests moderation of so-called "fake news" on social media is likely to appear in the bill. That teaser also mentions forced age-based restrictions on services felt to be addictive, risk assessments of algorithms, and rules governing content monetization.

Other reports mention changes to India’s safe harbor provisions that exempt online services from liability for some of their users posts.

Semiconductor strategy incoming

Minister Chandrasekhar is a busy chap right now. This week he also presaged the announcement of "a roadmap for catalyzing Semiconductor R&D ecosystem in the country."

"A holistic semiconductor R&D institutional framework to be rolled out in the next six weeks covering areas like system packaging, chiplet architectures, technology, collaborative framework etc," he tweeted on Thursday.

The bill is sure to be controversial at home and abroad. Content takedown powers and fact-checking have already met with opposition within India's borders – on grounds that they can be used to suppress the government’s political opponents. From outside India, Big Tech companies and lobby groups argue that regulation of online speech is unreasonably onerous and will stifle development of India's tech sector.

Indian politicians mostly treat that as a bluff, safe in the knowledge that Big Tech sees the nation and its 1.4 billion inhabitants as one of their brightest growth prospects. Hammering Big Tech also goes down well at home, where American tech companies' activities are often compared – unfavorably – to colonialist arrogance. India has centuries of experience dealing with that, and has no desire to experience it again. ®

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