UK politicians, Big Tech grumble about India tech laws

India’s forthcoming tech-related laws are not going down well with some of its key partners.

In the UK, which is trying to reach a free trade agreement with India, criticism was last week leveled at both nations by the House of Commons International Trade Committee in a report headlined “MPs criticise lack of information and unhelpful responses from Government on India trade negotiations.”

The MPs of that title are UK representatives who found “more detail from reports in the Indian media, often citing unnamed Indian government officials, than from the UK government.”

The committee also directed some spicy comments towards India’s government.

Citing lobby group techUK’s position that any trade deal should include “free and trusted cross-border data flows; a ban on data localisation requirements; preventing the mandatory transfer of source codes, algorithms and encryption keys; a ban on digital tariffs and discrimination against digital formats; collaboration on emerging tech; and recognising e-signatures and electronic contracts,” the committee wrote “the UK and India appear to be very far apart on these issues.”

“A major potential stumbling block in this regard has been the Indian government’s pursuit of legislation that could have the effect of requiring data localisation,” the MPs added, concluding: “It remains to be seen how far the latest iteration of draft Indian data legislation, the Digital Data Protection bill, will prove an obstacle to fulfilling the UK’s offensive interests in this regard.”

That bill, introduced in 2022 after a 2019 attempt failed to clear Parliament, does not override data localization in other Indian statutes that impact industries such as financial services.

The report also points out that details on access to services markets, and recognition of professional qualifications, both remain unresolved. At present the UK recognizes some India credentials and that doing so is particularly helpful for recruitment in the healthcare sector. Indian tech pros often seek work abroad – access to visas in the US has even been a matter for discussion between Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and US president Joe Biden.

The full Digital Data Protection bill is expected to be revealed in July.

The other Indian law that has proven contentious is the IT Amendment Rules of 2023, which created a government-run “fact checking” unit to assess material posted online about the government. The fact checking unit can require “intermediaries” – mostly social media companies – to take steps not to publish material it decides is fake, false or misleading.

Those terms are not well defined in the bill, leading the Asia Internet Coalition – Big Tech’s lobby group in the region – to protest: “The amendments lack the sufficient procedural safeguards to protect fundamental rights to access information” and “grant the Indian government broad content takedown power without providing sufficient procedural safeguards to remove content and protect people’s fundamental rights to access information.”

The validity of the law has already been challenged in India’s courts.

India maintains that it is regulating appropriately in order to protect its people and grow its economy.

Growth markets are hard to find in the current economic climate. The UK and Big Tech therefore need India more than India needs to change its ways to ensure their interest and investment – The Register will be surprised if India’s government makes major concessions. ®

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