Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Member of Parliament (MP), Rajya Sabha, has been closely associated with the telecom sector for over two decades. Talking to BusinessLine , Chandrasekhar didn’t mince his words while sharing his thoughts on the telecom sector, the government authorising intelligence agencies to snoop, the amendments to the IT Act, the Data Protection Bill, the Digital India initiative and a wide array of topics that is keeping the nation on tenterhooks. Excerpts:
What is your take on the telecom regulator’s stand on anti-competitive practices?
Anti-competitive practices is an area for the Competition Commission of India (CCI). If any company uses unfair means to gain market share and market advantage, that comes under the category of anti-competitive practices. To argue that a new company, which is coming in with a superior or different technology and is pricing its product lower, is anti-competitive, doesn’t make it so. Losing market share is not evidence of anti-competitive behaviour.The onus is on you to prove that they are using something special to predate on you and take market share from you in an unfair manner...that they have not proved.If you are aggrieved by something, you can appeal, and if you are aggrieved by the decision on the appeal, you can go to the Supreme Court.
Is there anything that can be changed about the new National Digital Communications Policy [NDCP]?
I think one area the policy has touched upon, but needs a lot more detail, is consumer protection. That is, at the end of the day, consumers are the biggest stakeholders. Around 1.2 billion people today use mobile phones and 400 million Indians are online. By 2021- 2022, there will be 900 million Indians online.There are a number of issues relating to how consumers can be protected by law and which institution do they go to if they are being short-changed by an ISP or an access provider.
What is your take on the government authorising 10 agencies to “intercept, monitor and decrypt” information on any computer device in the country?
I was the first MP to raise the issue about the centralised monitoring system (CMS) in 2010. It was something that the UPA brought in, and in today’s world of terrorism, for our intelligence and security agencies, the ability to eavesdrop is very important
However, that ability to eavesdrop and intercept cannot be unfettered and cannot be without any filters that protect it from misuse. The debate should be about whether the CMS has enough protection around it, where it cannot be misused against political rivals, business rivals, bureaucratic rivals etc. The government has made it very clear that it cannot be used by anybody.
There are fears about it creating a surveillance state…
Surveillance today is a reality. My personal belief against surveillance state notwithstanding, in today’s world of terrorism, where internet and communication are central to terror plots, the ability to monitor the internet is a must-have for every sovereign nation.
So we are not going to become a surveillance state as long as people are aware of what the laws are. People challenge states that misuse the CMS.If you today fear that you are under surveillance, you can go to court and argue that privacy is a fundamental right.The only thing that can create a surveillance state is a casual citizen.
What about the proposed amendment to Section 79 of the IT Act?
Those are areas in which currently I have a dispute with the government.I don't believe either the Aadhaar Amendment Act that is now being proposed, or the Section 79 tinkering that has been happening, should happen without a debate. There is clearly always going to be, in today's world, a conflict between the security establishment wanting more and more control and oversight, versus the democracy and freedom of expression with people saying ‘no we want pushback’. In today’s digital world, there are many things that will look like a Big Brother and may look a little way one-sided. But that is normal. Because these policies come from a bureaucratic mindset or from a security mindset. In our system, through a healthy media, through citizenship, we will push back…I agree with national security having to be strong, but I don’t believe national security is contradicts freedom of expression. And it should never be.
What do you have to say about the Data Protection Bill and the concerns about users’ privacy?
Privacy is the fundamental right, not for corporates, but for every citizen. So, data protection, at the heart of it, has to be the individual and how the individual is going to be compensated in the event of a breach of his/her own privacy. The Data Protection Bill is silent on that…There needs to be a lot more discussion. There is a whole unnecessary debate on data localisation and I have said that data localisation is completely an impractical, theoretical and nonsensical issue because it will create all kinds of trade-related issue. Data localisation increases the consumer costs.
Globally, there are concerns about users’ data being used without consent. In India too, do you think there’s enough debate about this?
People have always argued with me that data protection is an elitist issue. When I used to argue that Aadhaar has no privacy protection, people used to say “You give your biometrics for US immigration, so why can’t you give your biometrics here?” The answer is very simple. In the US, there is a law that protects against misuse of your biometric. In India, there is none. That is why you should not give biometrics in India without protection…Data protection is a complex issue, it is almost a constitutional heart of Digital India. There has to be this digital magna carta of digital consumer rights. If 900 million Indians are going to be online, there has to be a set of rights that business and government agencies have to respect.
What are your thoughts on Aadhaar?
I think Aadhaar is poorly thought-through, poorly conceived and amateurish. It is a mix of amateur politics and poor technology.
At a time when the whole world is going to blockchain, this guy has a centralised database. At a time when everybody is looking at proper authentication before you get into a database, you do no authentication. That is why every terrorist, who is caught today, has an Aadhaar card.