In the wake of Cambridge Analytica scandal that unfolded in gory detail last year, it has become mandatory to enact laws to protect India’s sovereignty through effective legal framework against cyber terrorism and other fulminations
The Constitution of India empowers the State to uphold the internal and external sovereignty of the nation in terms of legal, political and popular conventions, as Dr. BR Ambedkar, the father of Indian Constitution had firmly advocated that sovereignty should be used for advancing the welfare of people and not blocking it. Modern concept of sovereignty rests on the supreme authority over a political and territorial entity, and entails the notion of freedom from foreign control, i.e., the independence of the state from the control or interference of any external powerplay.
While the world is riding on the evolution of technology, the sovereignty of a state on many parameters such as internet, network, information, data, spectrum and cyber space is waning faster. For example, the mass surveillance of technological systems, meddling of fair democratic elections through social media feeds and revelation of classified information by Wikileaks and many such others are distorting the sanctity of sovereignty. As India is poised to celebrate her 70th anniversary as republic, it’s apposite to strengthen the robust legal and technological frameworks to safeguard the sovereignty of our nation in letter and spirit.
With the mandate of upholding India’s sovereignty, the government has been regularly reviewing their action plan for strengthening the sovereignty of the nation and accordingly formulating legal frameworks, policies and programmes.
The Information Technology Act, 2000 is a decisive step towards upholding the digital sovereignty of citizens by enacting legal framework to protect the nation from cyber terrorism as it empowers authorities to issue directions for interception/monitoring/decryption of any information through any computer resource. As the country is marching ahead with digital revolution and planning to become a trillion-dollar digital economy five years down the line, a robust framework such as Aadhaar formulated by the government for authentication of the identity of the countrymen is ensured. Till 31st December 2019, India has generated 125.06 crore Aadhaar cards and transacted 8,125.49 crore digital payments. While Aadhaar-based authentication ensures data sovereignty, the larger point here is technology as an enabler satisfies the principles of data security of citizens without departing from the fundamental principles of right to privacy. The service providers leveraging Aadhaar as an authentication mechanism even don’t possess the user information or biometric details.
Similarly, the Preamble of National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP), 2018 enacts: “If India’s economic, social and political interests in the emerging data economy are to be effectively secured, its ‘digital sovereignty’ encompassing the data privacy, choice and security of its citizens must be a prime consideration while participating in the global digital economy.” Under the Secure India segment of NDCP, which underlines the importance of a legal framework to ensure sovereignty, safety and security of digital communications to secure the interests of citizens and safeguard the digital sovereignty of India with a focus on ensuring individual autonomy and choice, data ownership, privacy and security; while recognising data as a crucial economic resource. Furthermore, NDCP envisions goals for 2022, which comprise establishing a comprehensive data protection regime for digital communications that safeguards the privacy, autonomy and choice of individuals and facilitates India’s effective participation in the global digital economy.
As data and personal identity of an individual is a key asset for the country itself, so for safeguarding the interest of citizens, a framework for securing the data is the need of the hour for which the government has envisaged and formulated the Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB), 2019 that further empowers the Union Government to monitor the data sovereignty of citizens and issue directions necessary in the interest of sovereignty, security and integrity of the nation. PDPB also specifies provisions for social media intermediaries whose actions have significant impact on the electoral democracy, security, integrity and public order.
In addition to the ecosystem of strong legal frameworks, technology-centric policies and programmes are in place in the country, we should exploit the complete benefits of the technological revolution across sectors. However, in order to ensure the sovereignty of the nation is upheld in true sense in all walks of life, we need to further strengthen our standards across sectors matching with the global practices for leveraging the technology in an optimized way.
Now, the moot point is to sustain and maintain the sovereignty of the country by leveraging the technology at large for which the government has already taken various initiatives and policies under Digital India, Make in India, Startup India, National Policy on Electronics and National Policy on Software Products to create indigenous products for industry verticals to ensure sovereignty across data, technology, digital, networking, internet and cyberspace. The technology prowess of India has enabled the government and industry to indigenously build massive technology platforms like Aadhaar, GSTN, GeM, MCA21 and NSE. Already our country has witnessed the success of IT industry during the last three decades, which is not only capable of serving the needs of the country but also serving the larger requirements of the world and having enormous potential for creating world-class products for all industry verticals so that the sovereignty in all means can be preserved.
India needs to further fuel technological advancements in Industry 4.0 ecosystem to serve the internal requirements by reducing the dependency on imports, so that the challenges towards the sovereignty of the country can be mitigated. This can happen by democratising innovation through indigenous R&D, protection of IPs, decommodification of citizens data, bringing up open standards for technology enablement and scaling up platform standards to ensure India protect its sovereignty across paradigms. Eventually, technology prowess vested in India can further strengthen the sovereignty to a level where the citizens of the country feel proud and secured as experienced by other most developed and technologically advanced nations of the world.
(The writer is Director General, SoftwareTechnology Parks of India)