Laying the foundation for a future-ready digital India – on reforming India’s 23-year-old Information Technology (IT) Act | 27th June 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the proposed “Digital India Bill” which is supposed to replace India’s 23-year-old Information Technology (IT) Act.


  • GS2: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation;
  • GS3: Awareness in the fields of IT;
  • GS3: Basics of Cyber Security:
  • Essay;
  • Prelims


  • The Ministry of Electronics and IT has been actively organising consultations on the proposed “Digital India Bill” to build conceptual alignment on a new law.
  • In this article, the writer talks about some features of the proposed bill and also provides some examples of best practices followed across the world.

What is the Digital India Bill?

  • It is the proposed successor to the Information Technology Act, of 2000, which currently regulates entities on the internet in India.
  • It aims to ensure that the internet in India is open, free from user harm and criminality and that there is an institutional mechanism of accountability.
  • The legislation will cover emerging technologies, algorithms of social media platforms, artificial intelligence, and user risks, as well as the diversity of the internet and the regulation of intermediaries.
  • Changes being proposed include a categorisation of digital intermediaries into distinct classes such as e-commerce players, social media companies, and search engines to place different responsibilities and liabilities on each kind.


Need of new legislation: Act needs to be updated/replaced to reflect the changes that happened in the society. The present act suffers from following shortcomings:

  • Wider and unclear definition of ‘intermediaries’:
    • Present IT act classifies intermediaries into three main categories: Social Media Intermediaries” (SMIs), Significant Social Media Intermediaries” (SSMIs) and Online Gaming Intermediaries.
    • Problem is that the definition of SMIs is so broad that it can encompass a variety of services such as video communications, matrimonial websites, email and even online comment sections on websites.
  • Non-proportionate Regulation:
    • Due to such a wider definition, small internet companies (ISPs, websites, e-commerce platforms, and cloud services) and big SMIs are all treated similarly.
      New bill is supposed to address the above-mentioned issues.

Global examples:

  • European Union’s Digital Services Act:
    • It introduces some exemptions and creates three tiers of intermediaries — hosting services, online platforms and “very large online platforms”, with increasing legal obligations.
  • Australia: 
    • It has created an eight-fold classification system, with separate industry-drafted codes governing categories such as social media platforms and search engines.
    • Intermediaries are required to conduct risk assessments, based on the potential for exposure to harmful content such as child sexual abuse material (CSAM) or terrorism.

What should India do?

  • While a granular, product-specific classification could improve accountability and safety online, such an approach may not be future-proof. As technology evolves, the specific categories we define today may not work in the future.
  • What we need, therefore, is a classification framework that creates a few defined categories, requires intermediaries to undertake risk assessments and uses that information to bucket them into relevant categories. (proportionate regulation)
  • The goal should also be to minimise obligations on intermediaries and ensure that regulatory tasks are proportionate to ability and size.
  • Create different categories based on the size, tasks they perform and thus risks associated.
    • Example 1: exempt micro and small enterprises, and caching and conduit services (the ‘pipes’ of the Internet) from any major obligations.
    • Example 2: Intermediaries that offer communication services could be asked to undertake risk assessments based on the number of their active users, risk of harm and potential for virality of harmful content.
      • The largest communication services (platforms such as Twitter) could then be required to adhere to special obligations such as appointing India-based officers and setting up in-house grievance appellate mechanisms with independent external stakeholders to increase confidence in the grievance process.
      • Alternative approaches to curbing virality, such as circuit breakers to slow down content, could also be considered.

Way Forward:

  • For the proposed approach to be effective, metrics for risk assessment and appropriate thresholds would have to be defined and reviewed on a periodic basis in consultation with industry.
  • Overall, such a framework could help establish accountability and online safety, while reducing legal obligations for a large number of intermediaries.
  • In doing so, it could help create a regulatory environment that helps achieve the government’s policy goal of creating a safer Internet ecosystem, while also allowing businesses to thrive.

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