5G, data protection bill, social media intermediaries: Ashwini Vaishnaw has her arms full

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Odisha’s BJP MP Rajya Sabha and former civil servant Ashwini Vaishnaw secured several key portfolios in the cabinet reshuffle that took place on July 7. Vaishnaw, who is an IIT and Wharton alumnus, has three prime portfolios in communications, IT and railroads. His appointment follows the surprise departure of Ravi Shankar Prasad from the Ministry of Communications and Informatics.

Technocrat and entrepreneur Rajeev Chandrasekhar, as Minister of State at the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, will join him as his deputy. By the way, Vaishnaw and Chandrasekhar were on the five-member joint committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill.

Being closely involved in the privacy bill, Vaishnaw and Chandrasekhar will seek to bring the bill to its logical conclusion. In addition to the data protection bill, the issue of social media intermediaries will also occupy the ministry. The IT department has had frequent run-ins with Twitter.

In fact, Vaishnaw issued a veiled warning to Twitter on day one of his takeover. In a loud and clear message on Twitter, the minister said that “everyone who lives and works in India will have to abide by the country’s rules”.

The government has notified the 2021 rules on information technology (guidelines on intermediaries and code of ethics for digital media) which aim to hold intermediaries like Twitter, Facebook and Google accountable. Part II of these rules dealing with social media intermediaries is administered by the Department of Electronics and Informatics.

As Minister of Communications, Vaishnaw has his hands full. It will have to deal with several policy-level issues such as the deployment of 5G, satellite communications and the competitiveness of the telecommunications sector, with Vodafone Idea on the verge of collapse.

“I think the priorities should be the Personal Data Protection Bill and the amendments to the Information Technology Act. I don’t think the priorities of the ministry will change significantly due to the change of minister.” , said Nikhil Narendran, Trilegal partner.

Abhishek Malhotra, Managing Partner of TMT Law Practice, highlighted areas of concern with regard to the Ministry of Informatics. Malhotra noted that the dispute with Twitter over non-compliance with the new IT rules (Intermediate Guidelines and Code of Ethics for Digital Media), 2021 was also an issue with Ravi Shankar Prasad, and he continues to persist.

Another key agenda for the new minister is the review of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which also includes privacy and data protection issues.

Another issue that the Minister will need to consider are issues relating to consumer protection (e-commerce rules) and the implementation of the proposed changes. “There is a requirement for the appointment of a compliance officer, a nodal contact person, a resident grievance officer – much like the IT rules of 2021 – seemingly excessive and unnecessary. As the issues could already be resolved under the respective privacy laws, consumer laws and industry laws. (finance, health, likewise), ”added Malhotra.

The Ministry of Informatics will also have to tackle the problem of data breach problems in the information technology and telecommunications sector. “Working from home has increased the problems, and in the absence of any privacy legislation, there is a lot of ambiguity and constant abuse of weak infrastructure (technical / security measures, as well as framework legal)”

Other key issues, Malhotra said, include telecom companies’ demand for reduced tariffs on telecommunications equipment to launch 5G services in the country and the issue of the digital divide created by the pandemic. In progress.

LawNK partner Abhinav Srivastav said the IT ministry should push for the data protection bill as a priority. In the long run, there will be greater support for regional languages, which will lead to increasing digital adoption. “With their collective experience with digital and online media, the newly appointed ministers can also be expected to take a nuanced approach to the business rules that will build India’s data protection framework. The personal data protection bill is only a starting point, but I believe their real contribution will lie in preparing the rules that will underpin the data protection framework. “

As Minister of Communications, Vaishnaw’s priorities will be the deployment of 5G, the launch of satellite communications services to bridge the digital divide, in addition to the overall health of the telecommunications industry. “The auction of 5G spectrum and the deployment of 5G services will be one of the main agendas of the Ministry of Informatics. The role of Chinese companies in the rollout of 5G is not entirely clear. Then we have the whole issue of satellite communications. We have very little involvement of satellite services in our network. Satellite communications hold great promise for accessing areas that are virtually impossible to reach for terrestrial telecoms. For example, there are areas where cellular services are not easy to deploy while satellite communication is relatively easy. We need clarity on the allocation of spectrum for satellite services, ”said telecommunications analyst Mahesh Uppal.

The survival of Vodafone Idea and the role of BSNL / MTNL in the telecommunications sector is also an important issue for the Ministry of Communication. “There are concerns about the survival of Vodafone Idea in the telecommunications space in India. The flip side is the role that government companies like BSNL can play. BSNL / MTNL are also in trouble. What will or can the minister do to ensure that the telecommunications sector remains competitive? What can the government do to close the access gap. For example, we have a very large number of rural people who still do not have access to any type of data service. Almost half of the country does not have access to the data. These are all major political concerns. “

Uppal noted that the other key concern for the IT ministry is the content and role of intermediaries outside of the data privacy bill. “How India will regulate them and to what extent and if it can reconcile consumer protection needs with freedom of expression and expression.” Social media by definition is about freedom of expression. Even social media companies want regulation in many cases. The challenge is that we have yet to develop an appropriate and effective framework. Then there is this issue of the pending data protection bill. We do not know when this will be debated and even when the parliamentary committee will present its report. “

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