The draft of the revised data protection framework will be released for consultation soon with the government planning to present it in Parliament during the Budget session next year, Minister of Telecom and IT Ashwini Vaishnaw said.

In an interview with The Hindu, the minister stressed that the country’s data protection framework should be in tune with the modern time and not look like an attempt to “create a paper system for a digital world”.

The government, earlier this month, withdrew The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, in the Lok Sabha, reasoning that it will come up with a fresh bill that fits into the comprehensive legal framework with reference to the suggestions made by the Joint Committee of Parliament (JCP) on the Bill.

“The principles of data protection and privacy are now well established all over the world and the government is more or less already practising those principles ever since the Supreme Court gave the judgment,” he said, adding that the focus now is to make sure that the implementation of the law and principles is in tune with the modern times.

“... should be accessible to everybody, should be very easy to implement and should be born digital. It should not be like we are trying to create a paper system for a digital world,” Vaishnaw said.

He added that the new draft should be out soon for consultation, and the government will bring it to Parliament in the Budget session next year.

Vaishnaw explained that the government’s policy vision for the entire digital economy has four different pieces – the new telecom Bill which is at an advanced stage of drafting, the data protection bill and a comprehensive digital India Act that will replace the existing IT Act. “Now beyond this, there are certain policy frameworks, for example the national data framework that we have uploaded for consultation, then cyber security framework… these outside the law, but more like a policy framework because of the ever-changing technology landscape,” he said.

Asked about the contentious issue of content removal from social media platforms, the minister said that the country’s law enforcement will have the final say in that. “This is there across the world. If you look at the per capita number of requests made for taking down content that is not in consonance with the laws of the country, India is among the lowest…”

“We expect that each and every social media platform should utilise the best available technologies. They should definitely do everything that is required to protect users’ data. And it is mandated by their own policies…this is a very fair expectation. If they don’t do it, of course they would be held accountable,” he added.

BSNL will become a good market stabilising force

Replying to a query on the government’s second attempt to revive the state-owned telecom services provider BSNL, Vaishnaw said with the reforms done in 2019 – where in the government pumped in ₹70,000 crore into the PSU – the government has been able to achieve its objective of making BSNL a stable entity.

“Last financial year, BSNL made operating profit (at the EBITA level). Now, from this level, we have to make it a growing company in terms of number of subscribers, revenue and profitability,” he said.

To increase revenues and subscriber base, BSNL will be rolling out 4G networks in the coming months, and plans are to start offering 5G services by the end of 2023.

“Our focus is also on reducing the cost…laser sharp focus on reducing the cost and increasing the revenue. So, that gives a very good clear directional thrust to BSNL’s journey and we believe that BSNL will become a good market stabilising force in the coming years,” Vaishnaw said.

The PSU will also play a very important role in reaching out to the unconnected places and bridge the digital divide, he added. “There is a clear thrust by Prime Minister Modi on inclusive growth and inclusive development. The PM has also approved a project to connect about 30,000 unconnected villages which will be done via BSNL.”

Exporting telecom equipment

India is building its own ecosystem for telecom equipment and aims to begin exports of telecom technology, including for 5G, to the world starting next year.

Vaishnaw added that India has received “serious definitive inquiries” as to when the technology stack being developed by The Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT) technology stack will be fully ready. “It is ready and tested…Once it is installed on let’s say 15-20 thousand sites then technology is treated as proven. So, we will have those credentials and by next year we will be ready to export telecom technology to the world,” he said.

The minister also expressed hope that the work on India’s first semiconductor fab unit could begin as early as this year. “January 1 is when we uploaded the policy…we should be able to conclude this entire process within this year itself and the first fab may get going this year.”

The world is looking for a reliable partner like India, he said.