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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Flying Drones in India 2021

Drones have been buzzing to become the next significant tech-fascination. Owing to their sleek build, agile mobility and ability to access areas of topography beyond the reach of humans; they are increasingly relevant in today’s innovation and utility-driven technology trends. However, as with any pioneering design, the value of drones largely depends upon the intention of their use. For instance, they can be employed to perform illegal or destructive activities by terrorist groups as was evident from the June drone attack at the Indian Airforce Station in Jammu.[1] Additionally, they can easily malfunction and cause unintended harm to human life or the environment.

In view of their heightened demand and novelty, governing their usage and ownership became imperative and consequently, in March 2021, the Ministry of Civil Aviation published the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Rules, 2021. However, the UAS rules were perceived as restrictive and complex. Based on the feedback from various stakeholders the UAS Rules, 2021 were repealed and the new Drone Rules, 2021 were notified under the Aircraft Act, 1934;  their scope excluded the actions done or omitted before the enforcement of these rules. Here are a few pertinent questions that we have tried to answer in light of the new rules:

Do I need a drone pilot license for flying drones in India?

 

One would require a remote pilot license to fly a drone in India unless exempted. The exceptions include the operation of nano drones and the non-commercial operation of micro-drones (i.e., drones weighing between 250 grams and 2kg). 

Additionally, no remote pilot license is required for drones operated for testing purposes within the premises of a research and development entity / educational entity under the Central government, drone manufacturer with a GST, Start-up recognized by the DPIIT, or an authorized testing entity when operated within the green zone.

Are there any restrictions on flying drones at night or over people in India?

 

The current regulations are silent on the timing at which drones can be flown. However, as night-time flying of drones will have additional safety implications and may require drones to be fitted with other mandatory safety features such as anti-collision lighting, we will have to wait for further clarification/notifications from the Ministry in this regard.

Is there a last date for registering my drone in India?

 

As per the Drone Rules 2021, a person owning an unmanned aircraft system manufactured in India or imported into India on or before the 30th day of November 2021 must make an application to register the drone and obtain a UIN by 31st December 2021. But, as per the Digital sky platform, the last date to obtain a Drone Acknowledgment Number (“DAN”) for an unlisted drone is 30th November 2021. Therefore, there seems to be a conflict between the dates specified on the website and the new drone rules. Also, as per the digital sky platform and the press release by the ministry of civil aviation one must have a DAN, a GST-paid invoice and must be part of the list of DGCA-approved drones to enlist an existing drone. 

Do I need permission to fly toy drone in India?

 

Under the guidelines to enlist an existing drone, it clearly specifies that all unmanned aircraft needs to be enlisted and it has been clarified that this includes models, prototypes, toys, RC aircraft, autonomous and remotely piloted aircraft systems, etc. [2] From these guidelines on the enlistment of drones it can be inferred that unmanned aircraft also includes toys. Thus, toy drone manufacturers/operators would need to obtain the compulsory permissions under the rules.

A remote pilot license is not required to operate nano drones and micro drones (i.e., drones weighing between 250 grams and 2kg) used for non-commercial purposes.  Type certification is not required for nano drones and model remotely piloted aircraft systems (i.e., drones used for educational, research, testing, design, and recreational purposes weighing below 25 kgs and operated within the visual line of sight). All drones need to obtain a UIN except drones used for testing purposes within the green zone and premises of the testing entity.

Hence, toy drones would require a UIN and, may require a remote pilot license and type certification depending on the size and nature of the drone. It would also need to be ensured that the drone is being flown in the green zone and that there are no notifications/restriction on the digital sky platform for drone operation in the intended area of operation.

Are there any restrictions on flying drones remotely over the internet?

 

“Remotely piloted aircraft” is defined by Drone Rules as an unmanned aircraft that is piloted from a remote pilot station. One must obtain a remote drone pilot license and type certify drones unless exempted to operate drones. Model remotely piloted aircrafts have to be operated within the visual line of sight. 

Other than the type certification and the remote pilot license, all drones need to obtain a UIN. They should not carry dangerous goods or arms, ammunitions etc. unless permitted by the concerned authority. They have to fly within the permitted zones and not violate the right of way of a manned aircraft.

The current regulations are silent on the operation of drones Beyond Visual line of sight (BVLOS). However, it is observed that entities are still availing conditional exemption for BVLOS operation from the Ministry.

What are the customs regulations for entering India with a drone?

 

Under the Drone rules, import of Drones is to be regulated by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) or any other authorised entity. The DGFT has not released any specific import policy on drones after the release of the rules. Under the existing Import Policy by the DGFT, import of Unmanned Aircraft System is “Restricted” and requires prior clearance of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and import license from DGFT.  Nano drones (i.e., drones weighing up to 250 grams) and operating below 50ft/ 15 meters above ground level are exempted from the requirement of an import clearance from the DGCA or import license from the DGFT.[3]

Although the new rules have eliminated the requirement for import clearance from the DGCA, the DGFT is yet to update the import policy and remove the requirement from the import policy.

Further, the Import Policy by the DGFT refers to the Guidelines issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. These guidelines mandate that anyone wishing to import must obtain Equipment type approval from the Wireless Planning and Co-ordination Wing, Department of Telecommunication for operating in de-licensed frequency bands. [4]  An application has to be made for a Unique Identification Number (UIN) post the necessary approvals are obtained to operate a drone in India.

Can drones be used for food/package delivery/advertisements in India?

 

The current rules prohibit the carriage of arms, ammunitions munitions of war, implements of war, explosives and military stores, etc. unless permitted by Central Government. It also regulates the carriage of dangerous goods as per the Carriage of Dangerous Goods Rules, 2003. Other than the above, the current regulations are silent on the aspect of permitted payloads.

When it comes to drones, unlike aeroplanes that generally take-off from an airport, there are no specific ports from which drones are flown. The new rules mention the development of policy framework for developing corridors for safe and seamless transfer of goods by drones. As goods on a drone could have potential dangers such as accidental drops during flight and difficulty in regulation, it is possible that these will require further regulation. The 2018 CAR and UAS Rules, 2021 required drone operators to get special approval to drop/discharge substances. Such conditions are not specified in the current rules. It would be advisable to get special clarification from the DGCA on permitted payloads as there are additional safety implications associated with it.

Are there any other initiatives in place other than the liberalized Drone Rules 2021 to achieve the target of making India a drone hub by 2030?

 

In furtherance to the initiative of the liberalization of the regulations governing Drones, the Indian government approved the Production Linked Incentive scheme (PLI) for drones and drone components in India. The net fund assigned under the scheme is Rs. 120 crores over three financial years.

It provides relaxed criteria for MSMEs and startups to encourage them to avail the benefits of the scheme. The rate of PLI is fixed at 20% of the value addition throughout the scheme. Depending on the value added by the manufacturer, their eligible PLI will be 20% of the addition. The minimum addition is set at 40% of the eligible sales turnover of the FY. Value addition is calculated as the eligible sales minus the eligible purchase cost.

It is the responsibility of the component manufacturers to show that the components are exclusively used in manufacture of drones. The scheme is for three years from 2021-2022 . The amount will be disbursed in the subsequent financial year to which it is claimed . An applicant is eligible for three consecutive years but up to FY 2023-2024.[5]

 

What steps are being taken for traffic management and avoidance of collision between manned and unmanned aircraft?

 

On the 25th of October the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) policy framework was published by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. To achieve UTM-ATM (Air Traffic Management) interoperability and integration, the policy suggests aligning with the framework of the International Civil Aviation Organisation for UTMs. It invites studies/ proposals on real -time tracking mechanisms as real -time identification and tracking (RIT) via Bluetooth or wifi is not practical owing to the low operational range. As per the policy, all unmanned aircrafts may implement RIT via network for successful separation from manned aircrafts. However, it does recognise that this facility will not be available in areas without telecommunication network.

 

The Future Lies in the Sky

 

The new drone rules have liberalised and simplified the regulations pertaining to drones. Instead of having all the regulations and certifications within these rules, powers have either been delegated or separate authorities and platforms have been established to deal with specific issues. The new rules also facilitate self-certification and self-monitoring as well as provide an easier process for transfer and deregistration. Further, they have done away with the approvals required for unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permit, authorisation of R&D organisation, student remote pilot licence, remote pilot instructor authorisation, drone port authorisation etc. Forms have been reduced from 25 to 6.  There is no specific criteria or approvals for drone ports, instead, the current rules have proposed that a policy be developed with a framework for corridors for the delivery of goods.

All these accompanied with the considerable reduction in the fees with respect to the remote pilot license and other registrations/certifications (wherever applicable) will set new grounds and open up a plethora of opportunities for start-ups, SMEs and research organisations who want to venture into the field of aviation, avionics and related interests. As an effect, the future will soon see Amazon, Zomato deliveries through drones, site verification for insurance organisations, crime patrolling, disaster assessment etc. eventually, as Union Minister for Civil Aviation, Jyotiraditya Scindia told, make India a global drone hub by 2030.

The future lies in the sky and beyond, and it is going to get crowded than ever!

References 

[1] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/two-explosions-rock-technical-area-of-jammu-airport/article34997389.ece

[2] https://dronenlisting.dgca.gov.in/

[3] https://www.dgft.gov.in/CP/?opt=itchs-import-export

[4] F.No.05-13/2014-AED Vol. IV dated 27th August, 2018.

[5] https://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2021/230076.pdf

Image Credits:

Photo by Dose Media on Unsplash

The new drone rules have liberalised and simplified the regulations pertaining to drones. Instead of having all the regulations and certifications within these rules, powers have either been delegated or separate authorities and platforms have been established to deal with specific issues

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Strong Tailwinds for India’s Technology Sector Entrepreneurs and Startups

Venture Capital (VC) investments in Indian startups in the period January – July 2021 were reported at around US$17.2 Billion. Although this figure is lower than the quantum of investments made in China in the same period, it is a healthy 55% more than the US$11.1 Billion VCs invested in India in the year 2020. Here’s an even more interesting data point: in July 2021, VCs invested around US$8 Billion in India, in comparison, their investments in China were approximately US$5 Billion. This was the first time since 2013 that India attracted more VC investments than China.

One swallow does not make a summer, but there are many reasons to believe that significantly higher levels of risk capital will become available to Indian entrepreneurs- and especially to those in the tech space. While most of these have to do with India’s intrinsic strengths, there are also some external forces at work. Here is what I believe will fuel India’s tech entrepreneurs over the course of the next five years or so.

  • Steep increase in the number of Indian unicorns:

The first 9 months of 2021 alone have seen 28 new unicorns (a term that denotes startups with valuations of US$1Billion or more) emerge in India. This number stood at 38 at the end of 2020.

  • Fintech innovation:

India has seen several innovative fintech come up in the last ten years, many of which are already unicorns or on their way there. As the global banking and financial services industry look for disruptive solutions and new ways of building ecosystems, many of these “Made in India” innovations will become globally relevant and hence attractive investment opportunities.

  • The rise and rise of Edtech:

As a result of the pandemic and the emergence of interactive technologies, the learning and education space has undergone a massive transformation in the last two years. Not just in the early school years but also coaching for various entrance exams. Byju’s for example, is valued at almost US$16.5 Billion, and has already acquired 9 other Edtech companies in recent months. Like fintech, the Edtech opportunity too has the potential to tap global business opportunities.

  • Rising interest amongst western VC funds:

Existing investors are looking to expand their Indian portfolio, with some big-name investors like Tiger Global making 25 investments in India between January and August 2021 (in 2020, they invested in 18 startups). New VC firms that have not previously invested in India too are also entering the market. Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) fund, for example, recently closed a US$260 Million investment in crypto player CoinSwitch Kuber (valuing it US$1.9 Billion). Reports suggest a 60% increase in participation by US investors in Indian fintech startups over the last three years. The Unacademy group, another major Edtech player in India, recently raised US$440 million (investors included non-US funds as well)- valuing the startup at almost US$3.5 Billion.

  • Many global giants already have an Indian presence:

It was recently reported that one in 12 global unicorns have their technology centers based in India (source: August report of the IVCA). As Indian ventures and their innovations gain global visibility, I believe many more global organizations will set up shop in India (As elaborated in my earlier blog – Global Captive Centers in India: Can add Value If Set Up Differently).

  • Strong talent base:

India has a large, trained pool of tech and managerial talent that can be attracted to startups both by higher compensation made possible by Venture Capital backing and the thrill of creating something new. Such talent can form the crucial leadership and middle layers as these startups scale and grow rapidly.

  • Entrepreneurship on the ascent:

Increasingly, young graduates are turning entrepreneurs– and choosing this avenue instead of the safety of “safe” jobs with established companies. And of course, there are senior leaders from various companies who are also getting bitten by the startup bug and leaving to start/mentor various early-stage ventures.

 

Conclusion

 

Of course, there’s also the elephant (more accurately, the dragon) in the room. The Chinese Communist Party leadership has, in the past year or so, made a number of major policy changes with the apparent intention of targeting China’s home-grown Big businesses (tech and others). The Chinese government’s seeming unwillingness to come to the rescue of defaulting real estate majors is another event that has muddied waters for investors. Western investors have significant exposure to many of these companies whose wings have clearly been clipped. Strains in diplomatic and economic ties between China and the west are expected to trigger a slowdown in fresh investments, if not cause an exit from Chinese businesses.

Capital chases the best risk-adjusted returns and so will always gravitate to where investors expect the best outcomes. India, with its relative political stability, acknowledged track record of democracy, continuing commitment to reforms, and growing stature as a global innovation hub makes it an attractive alternative.

Image Credits:

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

Capital chases the best risk-adjusted returns and so will always gravitate to where investors expect the best outcomes. India, with its relative political stability, acknowledged track record of democracy, continuing commitment to reforms and growing stature as a global innovation hub makes it an attractive alternative.

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Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code: Shifting Paradigm of Social & Digital Media Platforms

It has been just over six months since the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (the “Rules“) have been notified. However, these six months have been nothing short of a roller coaster ride for the (Internet) Intermediaries and Digital Media platforms, especially Social Media platforms who have tried to muddle through the slew of compliance obligations now imposed through these eccentric Rules. Notwithstanding, some of them had to face the wrath of the Government and even Courts for the delay in adherence.

On this topic, we are trying to stitch together a series of articles covering the entire gamut of the Rules, including their objective, applicability, impact, and the key issues around some of the rules being declared unconstitutional, etc.

In our first article, we analyse the timeline, objectives, and applicability of these Rules through some of the definitions provided under the Rules and the IT Act.

Tracing the Roots of the Digital Media Ethics Code 

The initiation of this endeavour can be tracked down to July 26, 2018, when a Calling Attention Motion was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on the misuse of social media and spread of fake news, whereby the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology conveyed the Government’s intent to strengthen the existing legal framework and make social media platforms accountable under the law. Thereafter, the first draft of the proposed amendments to the Intermediary Guidelines, The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines (Amendment) Rules) 2018, was published for public comments on December 24, 2018.

In the same year, the Supreme Court in Prajwala v. Union of India[1] directed the Union Government to form necessary guidelines or Statement of Procedures (SOPs) to curb child pornography online. An ad-hoc committee of the Rajya Sabha studied the issue of pornography on social media and its effects on children and the society and laid its report recommending the facilitation of identification of the first originator of such contents in February 2020.

In another matter, the Supreme Court of India on October 15 2020, issued a notice to the Union Government seeking its response on a PIL to regulate OTT Platforms. The Union Government subsequently on November 9 2020, made a notification bringing digital and online media under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, thereby giving the Ministry the power to regulate OTT Platforms.

On February 25, 2021, the Union Government notified the much-anticipated Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, bringing various digital entities under its purview and imposing new compliances to regulate them.

 

Objectives of the Digital Media Ethics Code

The rising internet and social media penetration in India raises concerns of transparency, disinformation and misuse of such technologies. The Rules address these concerns and bring accountability to social and digital media platforms by mandating the setting up of a grievance redressal mechanism that adheres to statutory timeframes. The Rules also address the legal lacuna surrounding the regulation of OTT platforms and the content available on them and introduces a three-tier content regulation mechanism.

Key definitions and the applicability of the Digital Media Ethics Code

The Rules add on extensively to the 2011 Intermediary Guidelines and also introduce new terms and definitions. To understand the Rules and the compliances thereunder in a holistic manner, it becomes imperative to learn the key terms and definitions. This also addresses concerns of applicability of the Rules to different entities, as they prescribe different sets of compliances to different categories of entities.

Key definitions:

Digital Media as per Rule 2(1)(i) are digitised content that can be transmitted over the internet or computer networks, including content received, stored, transmitted, edited or processed by

  • an intermediary; or
  • a publisher of news and current affairs content or a publisher of online curated content.

This broadly includes every content available online and every content that can be transmitted over the internet.

Grievance as per Rule 2(1)(j) includes any complaint, whether regarding any content, any duties of an intermediary or publisher under the Act, or other matters pertaining to the computer resource of an intermediary or publisher as the case may be.

Intermediary has not been defined in the Rules, but as per S. 2(1)(w) of the IT Act, intermediary, with respect to any particular electronic record, is any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that record or provides any service with respect to that record and includes telecom service providers, network service providers, internet service providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online-auction sites, online-market places and cyber cafes.

The first part of the definition lays down that an Intermediary with respect to an electronic record, is any person that receives, stores or transmits that electronic record on behalf of another person.

An entity becomes an intermediary for a particular electronic record if that record is received by, stored in or transmitted through the entity on behalf of a third party. However, as the clause does not use the term “collect” with respect to an electronic record, any data that entities may collect, including IP Addresses, device information, etc., do not fall within the definition’s purview. Hence the entities would not be considered as intermediaries for such data.

Moreover, the second part of the definition lays down that those entities that provide any service with respect to an electronic record would be intermediaries. However, what constitutes “service” has been a key point of discussion in prior cases. In Christian Louboutin Sas v. Nakul Bajaj[2], the Court not only held that the nature of the service offered by an entity would determine whether it falls under the ambit of the definition, but also went on to hold that when the involvement of an entity is more than that of merely an intermediary, i.e., it actively takes part in the use of such record, it might lose safe harbour protection under S. 79 of the Act.

The definition also includes telecom service providers, network service providers, internet service providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online-auction sites, online-market places, and cyber cafes as intermediaries. In Satish N v. State of Karnataka[3], it was held that taxi aggregators like Uber are also intermediaries with respect to the data they store. Therefore, Telecom Service Providers like Airtel, Vi, Jio, etc., Network Service Providers like Reliance Jio, BSNL, MTNL, etc., Internet Service Providers like ACT Fibernet, Hathaway, etc., Search Engines like Google, Bing, etc., Online Payment gateways like Razorpay, Billdesk etc., Online Auction Sites like eBay, eAuction India, etc., Online Market Places like Flipkart, Amazon etc. are all considered intermediaries.

Social Media Intermediaries as per Rule 2(1)(w) is an intermediary which primarily or solely enables online interaction between two or more users and allows them to create, upload, share, disseminate, modify or access information using its services. This includes platforms like Tumblr, Flickr, Diaspora, Ello, etc.

Significant Social Media Intermediaries as per Rule 2(1)(v) is a social media intermediary having number of registered users in India above such threshold as notified by the Central Government. Currently, the threshold is 5 million users. Platforms that fall under this category would be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Telegram etc.

News & current affairs content as per Rule 2(1)(m) includes newly received or noteworthy content, including analysis, especially about recent events primarily of socio-political, economic or cultural nature, made available over the internet or computer networks, and any digital media shall be news and current affairs content where the context, substance, purpose, import and meaning of such information is in the nature of news and current affairs content. Therefore, news pieces reported by newspapers or news agencies, shared online, on social media, or on digital media platforms are news & current affairs content. This includes contents of such nature created by any person and shared through social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter etc. Digital content discussing news and the latest happenings will also come under the purview of this definition.

Newspaper as per Rule 2(1)(n) as a periodical of loosely folded sheets usually printed on newsprint and brought out daily or at least once in a week, containing information on current events, public news or comments on public news. Newspapers like The Hindu, Times of India etc. will fall under this category.

News aggregator as per Rule 2(1)(o) is an entity performing a significant role in determining the news and current affairs content being made available, makes available to users a computer resource that enable such users to access such news and current affairs content which is aggregated, curated and presented by such entity. This includes platforms like Inshorts, Dailyhunt etc.

Online curated content as per Rule 2(1)(1) is any curated catalogue of audio-visual content, other than news and current affairs content, which is owned by, licensed to or contracted to be transmitted by a publisher of online curated content, and made available on demand, including but not limited through subscription, over the internet or computer networks, and includes films, audio visual programmes, documentaries, television programmes, serials, podcasts and other such content. This includes movies and shows available on OTT platforms like Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+Hotstar etc.

Publisher of News and Current Affairs Content as per Rule 2(1)(t) includes online paper, news portal, news aggregator, news agency and such other entities, which publishes news and current affairs. This would include websites/apps such as The Wire, The News Minute, Scroll.in, Dkoding.in, The Print, The Citizen, LiveLaw, Inshorts etc.

While the Rules do not include the regular newspapers or replica e-papers of these newspapers, as they come under the Press Council Act, news websites such as Hindustantimes.com, IndianExpress.com, thehindu.com are covered under the Rules, and the Union Government clarified the same on June 10, 2021. The clarification stated that websites of organisations having traditional newspapers and digital news portals/websites of traditional TV Organisations come under the ambit of the Rules.

This does not include news and current affairs reported or posted by laymen or ordinary citizens online, as the scope is limited only to news publishing agencies.

Publisher of Online Curated Content as per Rule 2(1)(u) is a publisher who performs a significant role in determining the online curated content being made available and enables users’ access to such content via internet or computer networks. Such transmission of online currented content shall be in the course of systematic business or commercial activity. This includes all OTT platforms, including Netflix, Prime Video, Voot, Lionsgate, Disney+Hotstar, etc.

The Digital Media Ethics Code Challenged in Court

Part III of the IT Rules has been challenged by many persons in various High Courts. News platforms including The Wire, The Quint, and AltNews moved to the Delhi High Court, alleging that online news platforms do not fall under the purview of Section 87 of the IT Act, under which these Rules are made as the section is only applicable to intermediaries. Section 69A is also limited to intermediaries and government agencies. It is alleged that since such publishers are not intermediaries, they do not fall under the purview of the IT Rules.

A similar petition was moved by LiveLaw, a legal news reporting website before the Kerala High Court, alleging that the Rules violated Articles 13, 14, 19(1)(a), 19(1)(g), and 21 of the Constitution and the IT Act.[4] The petitioners contended that the Rules had brought Digital News Media under the purview of the Press Council of India Act and the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, without amending either of the two legislations. They also alleged that the rules were undoing the procedural safeguards formed by the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal[5] case. In this regard, the Kerala High Court has ordered that no coercive action is to be taken against the petitioner as interim relief.

Recently, the Bombay High Court in Agij Promotion of Nineteenonea v. Union of India[6] delivered an interim order staying Rules 9(1) and 9(3), which provides for publishers’ compliance with the Code of Ethics, and the three tier self-regulation system respectively. The Court found Rule 9(1) prima facie an intrusion of Art. 19(1)(a).

Legality & Enforceability of the Digital Media Ethics Code

Even though six months have passed since the Rules came into force, the legality and enforceability of the Rules are still in question. While most intermediaries, including social media and significant social media intermediaries, have at least partly complied with the Rules, the same cannot be said for publishers of news and current affairs content and online curated content. This will have to wait until the challenges to its legality and constitutionality are settled by Courts.

References:

[1] 2018 SCC OnLine SC 3419.

[2] 2018 (76) PTC 508 (Del).

[3] ILR 2017 KARNATAKA 735.

[4] https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/kerala-high-court-new-it-rules-orders-no-coercive-action-issues-notice-on-livelaws-plea-170983

[5] (2013) 12 SCC 73.

[6] Agij Promotion of Nineteenonea v. Union of India, WRIT PETITION (L.) NO.14172 of 2021.

Image Credits: 

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

 

Even though six months have passed since the Rules came into force, the legality and enforceability of the Rules are still in question. While most intermediaries, including social media and significant social media intermediaries, have at least partly complied with the Rules, the same cannot be said for publishers of news and current affairs content and online curated content. This will have to wait until the challenges to its legality and constitutionality are settled by Courts.

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Education in India: Time to Connect the Dots and Look at the Big Picture

In the last few days, I read news reports that are seemingly unrelated on the surface. However, I think there exists a deeper connection for those willing to think outside the box. I thought I would use this article to articulate my thoughts on the connections and their possible implications for India. 

India’s New Education Policy expected to gain traction

The first item was about various initiatives announced by the Union government on the first anniversary of India’s National Education Policy (NEP). While internationalization, multiple entry/exit options, and digital education will be key pillars, one other important component is to enable students to pursue first-year Engineering courses in Indian languages.

In the context of the broad-brush changes envisioned to India’s education system, it is time to rethink the role of the UGC as a body that enables the nation’s higher education system in ways beyond disbursing funds to be recognized universities. There also ought to be more harmony between the various Boards that govern school education. The roles of bodies responsible for governing professional education in India- e.g., AICTE, NMC (which replaced the MCI), ICAI, ICSI, ICWAI, Bar Council of India etc. should also be redefined to ensure that India’s professionals remain in tune with the needs of a fast-changing world.

English will play an important role in our continued growth

The second report that caught my attention was on two main points made by Mr. Narayana Murthy (the Founder of Infosys), in a recent media interaction. He stated that it is high time that English be formally acknowledged and designated as India’s official link language, and greater emphasis is given to its teaching and learning in Indian schools. He said that his opinion is based on his first-hand knowledge of many technically qualified students in Bangalore/Karnataka who lose out in the job market largely because they lack a certain expected level of proficiency in English.

In the same interview, Mr. Murthy went on to say that on a priority basis, India needs overseas universities and vocational educational institutions to set up facilities in India to train students and teachers in key areas like nursing. This too makes sense because our healthcare infrastructure needs massive upgrades- and human resources will be critical.

China’s tightening regulations threaten its US$100 Billion EdTechc industry

The third report was on China’s recent decision to tightly regulate its online tutoring companies. The new rules bar online tutoring ventures from going public or raising foreign capital. There are also restrictions on the number of hours for which tutors can teach during weekends and vacations. In fact, the rules go so far as to make online tutorial businesses “not for profit”.

Different views have been expressed on why Chinese authorities have taken this step. Some see it as a means to reduce the cost of children’s education- and thus encourage couples to have more children. They point to this as a logical enabler of the recent relaxations in China’s two-child policy. Others view it as a step designed to clip the wings of Chinese tech companies that are deeply entrenched in many consumer segments, and have, over the past decade, acquired significant financial muscle.

To put into perspective the size of Chinese EdTech companies, consider this data point: Byju’s, arguably India’s largest EdTech company, was valued at over US$16.5 Billion as of mid-June 2021. Despite this high valuation, Byju’s would have been smaller than the top 5 Chinese EdTech players (on the basis of valuations that existed before the recent draconian rules came into effect).

Implications for India

The majority of China’s EdTech ventures are financed through significant venture capital investments from the west. Analysts expect that China’s sudden actions will, at least in the short run, divert capital to other locations. India could be a potential beneficiary because it already fosters a large EdTech ecosystem.

Given our demographics, we have a significant domestic market for education across all levels- primary, secondary, and college. Since digital education will likely become the norm, this space is ripe for newfangled innovations in the days ahead. If online education can bridge the gaps that employers currently perceive in our fresh graduates, unemployability rates shall notably decline. . This will not only contribute directly to our GDP but also indirectly stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship.

India has a large technical skill base. Some of these resources can easily be harnessed to develop next-gen education solutions using cutting-edge technologies such as AI, ML, Language Processing, Augmented Reality, etc. To begin with, Indian start-ups can build, test, and scale EdTech platforms and solutions for our domestic market. Over time, these can be refined and repurposed for global markets. Similarly, features built for the global market can be adapted to Indian markets, thus creating a virtual cycle. Such a trend will not only proffer legs to implementing India’s NEP but will also enable us as a society to improve access to education to underprivileged sections of the society. This is critical to sustaining our growth on the path of socio-economic development.

By taking the right decisions now, we can attract capital, talent, and world-famous institutional brands to this critical sector. EdTech in India has the potential to become a powerful engine of growth for our services sector. Done right, I have no doubt that in a few years, India can become a “Vishwaguru” not just in the spiritual sense, but also literally.

PS: As with many other sectors in India, the legal framework that governs education too needs to be made more contemporary and relevant, but that’s for another time.

Image Credits: Photo by Nikhita S on Unsplash

By taking the right decisions now, we can attract capital, talent and world-famous institutional brands to this critical sector. EdTech in India has the potential to become a powerful engine of growth for our services sector. Done right, I have no doubt that in a few years, India can become a “Vishwaguru” not just in the spiritual sense, but also literally.

 

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Income Tax Returns for AY 2020-21: Ready Referencer

With the extended time limit for filing of Income Tax Return (for AY 2020-21), u/s. 139(1), without late fees, for Non-Audit cases and for Non-Corporate assessees of 31st December 2020 fast approaching, given below is a quick guide for ready reference of some key changes that have been made in the respective Income tax return forms for this year.

Further, the conditions and features for eligibility of forms that are applicable for filing the correct income tax returns are also specified as follows:

Key Procedural Changes:

  • ITR 1 to ITR 4 can be filed using PAN or Aadhar by Individuals.
  • The submitted ITR forms display the ITR-V with a watermark ‘Not Verified’ until the same is verified either electronically by EVC or by sending the same via post after manual signing.
  • The unverified form ITR-V will not contain any income, deduction and tax details. The unverified form will only contain basic information, E-filing Acknowledgement Number and Verification part.
  • The unverified acknowledgement is titled as ‘INDIAN INCOME TAX RETURN VERIFICATION FORM’ & final ITR-V is titled as ‘INDIAN INCOME TAX RETURN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT’.
  • Return filed in response to notice u/s. 139(9), 142(1), 148, 153A, and 153C must have DIN.
  • There is a separate disclosure for Bank accounts in case of Non-Residents who are claiming income tax refund and not having a bank account in India.

COVID related Changes:

  • The Government had extended the time limit for claiming tax deduction u/CH VIA to 31st July 2020, and the details of the same need to be reported in Schedule DI (details of Investment).
  • The time limit for investing the proceeds or capital gains in other eligible assets, so as to claim exemptions u/s 54/ 54B/ 54F/ 54EC, had been extended to 30th September 2020.
  • Penal interest u/s. 234A @ 1% p.m., where the payments were due between 20-03-20 to 29-06-20 and such amounts were paid on or before 30-06-20, had been reduced to 75%, vide ordinance dated 31-03-20.
  • Period of forceful stay in India, beginning from quarantine date or 22-03-20 in any other case up to 31-03-20, is to be excluded, for the purpose of determining residential status in India.[1]

Consequences of Late filing of Return of Income:

  • Late Fees u/s. 234F of INR. 5,000 up to 31.12.20 and INR. 10,000 up to 31.03.21. In case of total income up to 5 Lacs, the penalty is INR. 1,000.
  • Penal Interest u/s. 234A @ 1% per month
  • Reduced to 75%. vide Ordinance dated 31.03.20, where the payments were due between 20.03.20 to 29.06.20, and such amounts were paid on or before 30.06.20.
  • Vide CBDT Notification dt 24.06.2020, no interest u/s 234A if Self-Assessment tax liability is less than 1 Lac and the same has been paid before the original due date.
  • In case of a belated return, loss under any head of Income (except unabsorbed depreciation) cannot be carried forwarded.
  • Deduction claims u/s. 10A, 10B, 80-IA, 80-IB, etc would not be allowed.

Consequences of Late filing of Return of Income:

  • Late Fees u/s. 234F of INR. 5,000 up to 31.12.20 and INR. 10,000 up to 31.03.21. In case of total income up to 5 Lacs, the penalty is INR. 1,000.
  • Penal Interest u/s. 234A @ 1% per month
  • Reduced to 75%. vide Ordinance dated 31.03.20, where the payments were due between 20.03.20 to 29.06.20, and such amounts were paid on or before 30.06.20.
  • Vide CBDT Notification dt 24.06.2020, no interest u/s 234A if Self-Assessment tax liability is less than 1 Lac and the same has been paid before the original due date.
  • In case of a belated return, loss under any head of Income (except unabsorbed depreciation) cannot be carried forwarded.
  • Deduction claims u/s. 10A, 10B, 80-IA, 80-IB, etc would not be allowed.

Vide CBDT Notification dt 24.06.2020, no interest u/s 234A if Self-Assessment tax liability is less than 1 Lac and the same has been paid before the original due date.

  1. Section 5A: Apportionment of income between spouses governed by the Portuguese Civil Code.
  2.  115BBDA: Tax on dividend from companies exceeding Rs. 10 Lakhs; 115BBE: Tax on unexplained credits, investment, money, etc. u/s. 68 or 69 or 69A or 69B or 69C or 69D.
  3. Inserted in sec 139(1) by Act No. 23 of 2019, w.e.f. 1-4-2020:

Provided also that a person referred to in clause (b), who is not required to furnish a return under this sub-section, and who during the previous year:

  • has deposited an amount or aggregate of the amounts exceeding one crore rupees in one or more current accounts maintained with a banking company or a co-operative bank; or
  • has incurred expenditure of an amount or aggregate of the amounts exceeding two lakh rupees for himself or any other person for travel to a foreign country; or
  • has incurred expenditure of an amount or aggregate of the amounts exceeding one lakh rupees towards consumption of electricity; or
  • fulfils such other conditions as may be prescribed,

Shall furnish a return of his income on or before the due date in such form and verified in such manner and setting forth such other particulars, as may be prescribed.

4. Section 57: Deduction against income chargeable under the head “Income from other sources”.

5. Schedule DI: Investment eligible for deduction against income (Ch VIA deductions) to be bifurcated between paid in F.Y.19-20 and during the period 01-04-20 to 31-07-20.

6.High-value Transaction: Annual Cash deposit exceeding Rs. 1 crore or Foreign travel expenditure exceeding Rs. 2 Lakhs, Annual electricity expenditure exceeding Rs. 1 Lakh.
7.Schedule 112A: From the sale of equity share in a company or unit of equity- oriented fund or unit of a business trust on which STT is paid under Section 112A.

8. 115AD(1)(iii) proviso: for Non-Residents – from the sale of equity share in a company or unit of equity-oriented fund or unit of a business trust on which STT is paid under Section 112A.
9. Section 40(ba): any payment of interest, salary, bonus, commission or remuneration paid to a member in case of Association of Person (AOP) or Body of Individual (BOI).

10. Section 90 & 90A: Foreign tax credit in cases where there is a bilateral agreement; Section 91: Foreign tax credit in cases of no agreement between the countries.

[1] Circular No 11 of 2020 dated 08th May 2020.

References

Image Credits: Photo by Markus Winkler from Pexels

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WhatsApps New Policy Changes – Engrossment or Entrapment?

Recently, there has been quite a brouhaha on WhatsApp’s policy changes that are slated to be effective from February 2021. Since WhatsApp is a household name when it comes to important and easy communication for over 200 million Indian subscribers, i.e. approx one-sixth of the Indian population, any modification in their Terms of Service and Privacy Policy would of course be intriguing and have huge ramifications across the country. Hence, policy changes affecting the users should have ideally been introduced after thorough deliberation and winning consumer credence. However, Whatsapp has preferred to impose this document on Indian consumers..

The new conditions are applicable to all WhatsApp users, for the services offered by WhatsApp LLC located in Menlo Park, California. However, services to the European region would come under WhatsApp Ireland Ltd. and European users would have to agree to separate Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. In short, for all non-European users of WhatsApp, the terms would be binding. WhatsApp has already started pushing for acceptance of the new Terms of Service and Privacy Policy when we open the application, and all Indian users are necessarily required to agree to them to get uninterrupted service.

The key element in the new Terms of Service is that WhatsApp is seeking consent to merge their services with other Facebook Group Companies. However, Whatsapp has now moved on to become a payment intermediary that enables sending and receiving money rather than a mere voice messaging, audio and video call application that it originally was. Since WhatsApp is now a business service provider offering financial intermediation services and a channel for communicating with businesses in India, it is required to comply with the provisions relating to Consumer Protection Act and other applicable laws in India. However, strangely the Terms of Services mentions that the applicable laws would be the laws of the State of California, and the forum for all dispute resolution would be the District Courts of Northern District of California or State Court located in San-Mateo County in California. Essentially, by this clause, Whatsapp is forcing the Indian users to concede the jurisdiction of a foreign court and foreign law.

Further, a company that owns, operates, or manages digital or electronic facilities or platforms for electronic commerce becomes an e-commerce entity. A company that owns, operates or manages digital or electronic facilities or platforms for electronic commerce becomes an e-commerce entity. When WhatsApp becomes a business service provider under Facebook Group Companies, it indirectly comes under the definition of an e-commerce service provider. Due to its unity in control with Facebook Group Companies, whether the services offered by Facebook Group Companies will be considered as services from a single source emanating from WhatsApp is something which requires deeper study. However, a prima facie inspection suggests that once these businesses start, WhatsApp and its group companies together could come under the classification of either an inventory e-commerce entity or a marketplace e-commerce entity depending on how they finally merge these businesses and offer it as a single service. In any case, the Terms of Service offered should be in accordance with Consumer Protection (E-commerce) Rules, 2020. As per the Rules, e-commerce service can be offered only by an Indian Company or a foreign company duly compliant with the Indian laws. However, the Terms of Service released by WhatsApp has no mention of any other Indian entity. News reports say WhatsApp has reportedly set up an Indian company called WhatsApp Application Services Pvt Ltd. but the Terms of Service has not linked or referred to that entity in any manner.

Moreover, as per the Rules, an e-commerce entity shall have an adequate grievance redressal mechanism including a separate grievance officer. However, strangely there is no such grievance mechanism provided for Indian users and no grievance officer has been stated to have been appointed. On the contrary, it is forcing consumers to seek redressal by approaching a foreign court in California under Californian laws. It is also imperative to note that linking Facebook Group Companies with WhatsApp services, sharing user data and forcing consumers to avail Facebook Group Company Services amounts to an unfair trade practice.

In addition, linking their services and enabling WhatsApp to be integrated with Facebook Group Companies should also be looked at in the perspective of Competition law, because the same is a unilateral act on the part of WhatsApp where its users are compelled to share their data with other businesses, which is an abuse of dominance and this activity may come under “combination”. A deeper scrutiny under the Competition Act is thus warranted to prevent the abuse of dominance. It is interesting to note that in response to the scrutiny of the European merger regulator some time back, while considering Facebook’s acquisition of Whatsapp, it was specifically assured by Facebook, that merging the subscriber data of these two services was not possible. In contrast, their new terms of services and the privacy notice are clearly against this submission and probably that is the reason that they have kept the terms for EU users intact.

The changes made in the Terms of Service also suggest that they might no longer be able to claim exemption from liability under §. 79 of the Information Technology Act or Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules because their own affiliated entities are offering goods and services through this platform. In such case they are not mere conduit for business rather actual business provider. Hence, the changes made in the Terms of Service give a prima facie view that WhatsApp will no longer able to claim any benefits under §. 79 of Information Technology Act and will become an active business service provider.

On the privacy law perspective, if we read the modified WhatsApp Privacy Policy, it essentially takes away the entire privacy of users and enables the platform to provide all user data of every kind to Facebook Group Companies and third-party service providers. It enables them to pump advertisements and make marketing of Facebook services and third-party services, which grossly exceeds the essential purpose for which people joined WhatsApp. Even from a plain reading, the consent that they are seeking is excessive and will not come under any of the legitimate grounds for which data can be collected and shared as per globally accepted privacy principles. They have expressly stated that the data can be stored wherever they like and can be transported to wherever they desire. Such blanket permissions essentially vitiate the concept of privacy in all manners.

WhatsApp has, in recent years, become the common communication medium among the public at large and any changes in the business scheme has a widespread repercussion. It has become an essential service and yet, has made a unilateral dictation of its Terms of Service without giving its Indian users any choice and without acquiescing to Indian Courts and Indian Jurisdiction. The apparent laxity in complying with Indian laws is worrisome and require further inspection. Despite being one of the largest subscriber territories, WhatsApp LLC has made no effort to be compliant with Indian law. If this omission is intentional then Indian authorities and the public at large should force them to revisit the Terms of Service ad Privacy Policy to make it more legally compliant with the IT Act, Consumer Protection Act, Completion law, and privacy principles and with other relevant Indian laws. Whatsapp is duty-bound to protect the interest of Indian subscribers.

The new conditions are applicable to all WhatsApp users, for the services offered by WhatsApp LLC located in Menlo Park, California. However, services to the European region would come under WhatsApp Ireland Ltd. and European users would have to agree to separate Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. In short, for all non-European users of WhatsApp, the terms would be binding. WhatsApp has already started pushing for acceptance of the new Terms of Service and Privacy Policy when we open the application, and all Indian users are necessarily required to agree to them to get uninterrupted service.

References

Image Credits: Photo by Rachit Tank on Unsplash

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Unlocking the Potential of Space Technologies for Nation-building

On 28 February 2021, ISRO successfully launched 19 satellites using the PSLV-C51 launch vehicle. The payload included the 637 Kg Amazonia 1, Brazil’s first indigenous earth observation satellite, as well as 18 Indian satellites (including some built by students and faculty from three Indian engineering colleges). ISRO’s robust and world-class capabilities in designing, building and launching satellites have been demonstrated on multiple occasions in the course of the past five decades. The growing interest shown by India’s private sector (including start-ups), to build satellites is certainly something to be proud of.
India is already a member of an elite club of countries with significant capabilities in the arena of space technologies (“spacetech”). While we are making steady progress, space needs to be looked at in the broader context of the important role that will play in enabling and accelerating the future economic growth and social development of countries like India.

Mobile telephony unleashed a worldwide revolution two decades ago. By quickly becoming a part of it, India benefited hugely; indeed, we continue to see how a hand-held device can become everything from a bank to a source of news to a shop and so much more. If India can pragmatically direct even more of its resources to spacetech, enormous benefits can be realized in the decades ahead. This is something that has started to happen in recent years by way of enabling policy changes.

For many years, ISRO’s satellites have been providing us with tangible benefits in three areas:
  • Giving farmers better and more timely information about weather conditions;
  • Alerting vulnerable populations to impending natural disasters and assist rescue and relief operations;
  • Enabling TV-based classes for rural students.

But the world is changing in several ways, and harnessing space technologies can ensure that we as a nation are able to adapt more effectively. One set of direct benefits accruing from spacetech relates to people living on earth, on the other hand, exploration of outer space through manned and unmanned missions can lead to greater knowledge about other planets and their suitability to support life as we know it. This of course may offer only long-term benefits.

Harnessing space technologies can deliver a range of benefits

Here’s a look at diverse areas where space technologies can play an important role in the coming years.

It is quite clear that water will become an increasingly scarce resource because of climate change as well as continued irresponsible behaviour by human beings around the world. Managing groundwater resources will become even more critical in the years ahead. This is something that satellite-based remote sensing technologies can enable. Such information can also help farmers in selecting crops that are better suited to their areas so that they are less impacted by the vagaries of nature.

Traffic jams are an undeniable reality of most urban centres. With satellites at the right locations, it is possible to gather real-time information about traffic build-ups and alert on-ground police and other authorities to take timely action to minimize the magnitude of the jam. Similar eyes-in-the-sky can also be used to monitor forests, wildlife movements, prevent poaching and other illegal activities. Fishermen can be provided with better communication facilities when they are at sea. Government properties can be monitored so that encroachments can be prevented. Spacetech can also aid e-governance activities.

In a post-COVID19 world, as remote working and hybrid working models become mainstream, robust and reliable nation-wide digital connectivity becomes even more critical. Education too will be delivered through hybrid models, as will some elements of healthcare. However, large sections of India’s rural population do not yet have access to reliable and high-speed internet access due to various reasons including difficult terrain for laying fibre optic cables, inhospitable weather conditions for large parts of the year etc. This effectively denies many of our fellow-citizens access to various essential services. Spacetech has the potential to provide better connectivity.

If India is to encourage investments in new clusters to move away from large urban centres, those areas need high-speed connectivity. This is especially important for factories that wish to embrace Manufacturing 4.0, which relies on IoT (Internet of Things) technologies. Providing land banks and physical transport infrastructure, though necessary, will not be sufficient in the next decade.

While we in India are still in the early stages of testing 5G technologies, some countries have already started experiments in 6G. Although the world is several years away from agreeing on 6G standards and specifications, in November 2020, China launched what it calls the “world’s first 6G satellite” to demonstrate the use of terahertz frequency waves. If successful, this technology can enable data-transmission speeds that are many times higher than 5G can deliver.

Collaboration on space-related areas can play an important role in India’s foreign policy. The launch of Amazonia-1 is the culmination of years of collaboration between Indian and Brazilian space scientists and technologists.

As other countries start building and deploying space-based defence systems, India cannot afford to ignore its security interests. Spacetech can help identify threats and create more effective deterrents against hostile intentions.

Outer space is another frontier we must explore

While colonizing space to overcome the earth’s real estate limitations is a few decades away, we cannot ignore the growing competition in outer space exploration. Countries such as the US, Russia, China etc. have already made significant progress by sending probes to many planets. India too has made significant progress with its Chandrayaan 2 mission. While the lunar lander did not land as expected, the orbiter continues to provide valuable data to our space scientists. The Chandrayaan 3 mission is already in the works, as is Gaganyaan, India’s manned mission to the moon.

Several enablers are needed to efficiently realize the benefits of spacetech innovation

It is one thing to identify priorities and appreciate the need to move decisively; creating the right ecosystem to move forward productively, quickly and at scale is another matter altogether. Allocating financial resources is of course an important aspect. But it is just as critical to ensure that the different stakeholders- the government, industry (private and public sector) and academia work collaboratively and cohesively.

The government of India has put in place some important policies and legislations in this context. These include a Satellite Communication policy, Remote Sensing policy and the Space Activities Bill. While the intent to open up participation in different areas of the space sector to private players, the laws seek to maintain government control to prevent national interests from being compromised. However, there are still references to the Indian Telegraph Act (1885) and National Frequency Allocation (2018) that make the process of approvals and clearances cumbersome.

The draft Space Activities Bill, 2017 envisages mechanisms for regulating space activities, authorize and grant licences for commercial space activities, register space objects and liabilities relating thereto etc. India needs such umbrella legislation in keeping with the fact that we are a signatory to the international space treaty.

The government has established the Indian National Space, Promotion & Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) under the aegis of the Department of Space to enable and support the participation of India’s private sector in the arena of space technologies. To build launch vehicles, provide launch services, build satellites and provide space-based services, the government, in 2019, set up New Space India Limited (NSIL). The role of the latter is to encourage industry participation in India’s space programmes. Yesterday’s successful launch was the first commercial mission undertaken by NSIL. But there needs to be more clarity around the regulatory powers of IN-SPACe.

The UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) has established a framework to ensure that individual entities (private or government) do not misuse space. Along with the International Telecommunication Union, this attempts to govern important aspects of activities in space, such as registration of objects launched into outer space, radiofrequency coordination, assignment and registration of satellite network frequencies, and compliance with the guidelines on space debris mitigation. Compliance is critical to ensure that the launch of a flurry of small satellites in the coming years does not put military or other satellites at risk.

Early steps have been taken. It is time that the government looks at bringing in necessary regulations and fine-tune existing ones to ensure that the intention of public-private partnership in this important field is encouraged, enabled and empowered.
This article talks about the important role of ‘SpaceTech’ in enabling and accelerating the future economic growth and social development of countries like India.

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Modifying the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill to Deal with Rising Privacy Concerns

OVERVIEW OF DATA PROTECTION REGIMES

The recent advent of WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy has brought to light the legal loopholes that the Indian Data Protection Laws are laced with. A revised and updated change in Data Protection Laws in India could have prevented the possible infringements that may take place with WhatsApp’s new privacy policy.

The European Region has been able to circumvent this issue due to its updated Data Privacy Laws that successfully provide users with protection from such policies. These policies legally mandate WhatsApp to prevent the sharing of data with Facebook and a violation of it would infringe the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

We have discussed here the modifications that could possibly be added to the Personal Data Protection Bill (PDP Bill) in India in order to ensure an air-tight privacy regulatory authority.

RISING PRIVACY CONCERNS- A STUDY ON WHATSAPP’S PRIVACY POLICY

With an undeniable rise in the relevance and indispensability of the digital platform; comes the numerous concerns regarding its safety in terms of data and privacy protection norms. A case in this instance would be that of WhatsApp releasing its updated terms of Privacy on January 04,2021, under which it would deprive users of their choice to share data or other information with other apps, including those owned by Facebook. Moreover, this policy was accompanied by a condition under which users who did not accept the updated privacy terms, would have to quit using WhatsApp altogether- beginning February 08, 2021- when the updated terms and policies was planned to be enforced.



The updated privacy policies of WhatsApp leave the end-to-end encryption clause intact. This means that WhatsApp has no access to one’s text messages and cannot share the same with any other party. However, this clause does not cover the protection of metadata- which entails everything in a conversation apart from the actual text. This information can be shared with Facebook and other apps.

WHY THIS POSES A PROBLEM

A close perusal and analysis of the entire case reveals the observation that this issue could have been avoided with a concrete Data Protection Law or Regulation in place in India.

The core issue that centres the entire case is that people largely use WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family. The data thus shared on this App by individuals is now proposed to be shared with other companies to run their businesses, for monetary gains. This implies that the purpose for which WhatsApp would be using personal data and information is not even remotely connected to the purpose for which users had share that information on the app.

This issue assumes an even graver character due to the inability of the Indian Data Protection Laws to safeguard their users from a misuse of data. Without a data protection authority or regime in force; users will be exposing their data to the surveillance of the entire Facebook group of companies.

Its lack of effectiveness to provide remedies or relief in such situations stands in stark contrast to the legal frameworks that are in place in other jurisdictions, most particularly the European countries. These countries are equipped with laws that can impose fines on Facebook for unduly sharing and using information through WhatsApp. This clause came into effect when the Competition Commission of certain European countries imposed this condition on Facebook during its purchase and acquisition of WhatsApp.
An important point to take note of, is also the commitment made by WhatsApp during its launch in 2009- “to not sell user data or personal information to any third party”. This stance changed with the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook in 2014; and its sharing of data with its parent company in 2017.However, in 2017; users were given a choice to prevent the sharing of such data to other platforms. The updated policies have mandated the exposure of such data as a condition to continued usage of the App.
The users are thus breached of the expectations and commitments with which they had initially installed the App.

IMPLICATIONS ON USERS

Unfortunately, due to the technical and legal intricacies of the issue; a majority of the Indian population will stay unaware of this issue and not do much about it other than accept the terms being forced upon them.

However, there are sections of the population sensitive to data protection and privacy norms. This brings to light the possibility of shifting to alternate and safer platforms such as Signal, Telegram and iMessage. Moreover, petitions have also been filed in several legal courts pursuant to the policies introduced by WhatsApp in January 2021 seeking to stay the implementation of these policies. After all, Right to Privacy is a Fundamental Right granted under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and therefore, must not be compromised upon.

It is thus proposed that till an appropriate legal and concrete regulatory and supervisory authority is not in force vis-à-vis the Data Protection issues in India, the Court must prohibit the execution of this new Privacy Policy set forth by WhatsApp. Pursuant to this, the Supreme Court has directed WhatsApp and its parent company, Facebook, to file their replies to the petitions and growing concerns on privacy violations.

In furtherance of these directions, WhatsApp has most recently implemented its updated Privacy Policy with a new campaign. Through this updated campaign, WhatsApp aims to increase communication about its changes with its users through a small banner at the top of the chat, while also offering more time to let them read, understand and accept its terms. Following the backlash received, now the new Privacy Policy terms is expected to go into effect at a later date i.e. May 15, 2021.

HOW THE PDP BILL CAN BE MODIFIED TO INCREASE DATA PROTECTION

The PDP Bill can and must be modified in certain ways to ensure that arbitrary clauses in such online policies do not deprive the users of the rightful protection they are entitled to under the Right to Privacy. One of the main additions that the PDP Bill must incorporate is a clause or term in the law that prohibits the changing or modification of the terms of a contract after its enforcement. For instance, WhatsApp modified the terms of its contract resulting in a clause that was contrary to its initial commitments and objectives.

Moreover, since the PDP Bill has not been passed yet; it is crucial to look to other alternate legal provisions and statutes that may offer protection in such situations. For instance, the Information Technology Act of 2000, under Section 87 gives the government the authority to come up with regulations that can put a stop to arbitrary policies introduced by online platforms that pose a threat to privacy and data protection rights granted to individuals.

A company must not be able to modify terms according to their whims and mandate users to abide by it simply because they consented to the initial contract. Terms of such contracts must be regulated and privacy laws must ensure that changes in these policies have undergone user consent.

SUMMARY

In order to honour the Fundamental Right to Privacy, it is vital for the concerned platforms to provide clarity regarding its policies to ensure that a well-equipped and protective mechanism is set in force to deal with instances of data protection infringement in India. It is also crucial to formulate a structure on the PDP Bill that is well equipped to handle policy changes while ensuring a constant protection of data privacy rights. Other alternative laws must also be incorporated and interpreted in ways to prevent a breach of privacy.

The European Region was able to circumvent the imposition of data sharing norms by Watsapp due to its updated Data Privacy Laws that successfully provide users with protection from such policies. Our extant laws are glaringly inadequate and the proposed draft, as well as the delay in the passage, of the Personal Data Protection Bill (PDP Bill), is posing a serious threat to our online privacy and security.

REFERENCES

1 WhatsApp’s new privacy policy: Yet another reason why India needs data protection law – The Hindu BusinessLine.
2 Privacy Policy – Feb 2021. (whatsapp.com)

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5 Ways Law Firms Can Ensure Client Value in the Emerging Environment

For us lawyers, the bulk of our interactions with clients and other stakeholders such as the courts, lawyers representing the other parties, the police, government officials etc. are now largely virtual as a direct result of the pandemic. In turn, this has increased our dependence on technology, reflected in terms of the quality of connectivity as well as familiarity with the digital platforms used. Naturally, all this impacts the quality of discussions and therefore, our ability to assist clients.

But the real change that has unfolded over the past few years (even before the pandemic started unfolding) has been around how clients perceive the “value” that lawyers and law firms add. To be fair, even before the pandemic hit us all, there have been rumblings about the billing models used, paying for time spent on activities not directly related to the matter, high lawyer fees and so on. All this will now come into focus even more sharply as clients become even more conscious of costs. 

The bottom line “value” that lawyers deliver to clients is the ability to obtain decisions in favour of their clients in various courts and/or quasi-judicial bodies. This in turn primarily depends on the lawyer’s knowledge and expertise- including the ability to study relevant case laws. Depending on the nature of the matter, court craft- the ability to present information and raise questions about the other side in ways that persuade the bench- also comes in. In many cases, the lawyer’s prior experience of arguing matters in front of a certain judge is also an element of value because it provides him/her with insights into the judge’s way of thinking. Just as critical is the lawyer’s ability to anticipate what the other side might do and take timely measures to mitigate the risk of such actions. In the Indian context, all this unfortunately often culminates in lawyers seeking and obtaining adjournments ad nauseam.

Taking a step back from how lawyers conventionally operate and dispassionately examining the notion of “value” to their clients, it is fair to say that law firms have plenty of room to change the manner in which they function.

Here are five aspects I believe one should consider while understanding the notion of “value” in the context of clients. 

  1. In an increasingly digital world, why should clients choose a lawyer or law firm from the same city in which the former is based? These days, courts allow documents to be uploaded in electronic format, and hearings are also conducted via digital platforms. A lot of corporate work is already done in a virtual model and this has only increased during the pandemic. In the foreseeable future, travel will only reduce, so consultations can easily be done online. Clients look for the most talented lawyer or law firm irrespective of where they are based. This means law firms should hire the best professionals out there.
  2. What lawyers primarily must do is anticipate potential problems that could arise during the execution of contracts and incorporate clauses to protect their clients. This is akin to ensuring quality at source in the manufacturing or software sectors. The tendency to use “templates” must be minimized, or at best limited to ensuring that the “standard” clauses are included. Commercial awareness and business acumen are key to ensuring that differences do not end up as legal disputes.
  3. A lot of time associated with travel, waiting at courts, etc. will now be saved; therefore, why should billing not more accurately reflect the actual time spent on the client’s case? And it can include the time lawyers and firms spend on research and planning- important activities whose value clients will fully understand.

 

  1. At least in India, many lawyers look at obtaining repeated adjournments as a strategic weapon. In some cases, it may be a legitimate avenue to help clients, but not always. Why should lawyers not change their mindset so that they focus more on obtaining a solution to their client’s problems instead of just wasting time? The lawyer’s lack of preparation or the desire to extend the case cannot and should not constitute grounds for adjournment. Remember that clients pay for time spent on hearings that simply result in the matter being deferred to another date in the future. But this change will also require a mindset change within the judiciary, which should start more actively questioning why one side is seeking frequent adjournments.
  2. Why should lawyers not develop a “solution” mindset that goes beyond litigation? Other avenues for dispute resolution, such as mediation or arbitration, must also be explored diligently. This is especially true in matters where the parties are amenable and the matter has a high probability of being resolved through alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Think about it- a client wants a legally binding (and defensible) outcome, and not necessarily a stay, injunction, or an order issued by a court of law.

I would love to hear your views on the above, so please do leave your comments.

 

Image Credits:  Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Taking a step back from how lawyers conventionally operate and dispassionately examining the notion of “value” to their clients, it is fair to say that law firms have plenty of room to change the manner in which they function.

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The Admissibility of Electronic Evidence

With constant technological innovation and dynamic transformation of related laws happening worldwide, the jurisprudence regarding reliance on evidence in electronic form is also evolving. Judges these days have demonstrated considerable perceptiveness towards the intrinsic ‘electronic’ nature of evidence, which includes insight regarding the admissibility of such evidence, and the interpretation of the law in relation to the manner in which electronic evidence can be brought and filed before the court.

The term   record has been defined under Section 2(t) of the Information Technology (IT) Act as under:

data, record or data generated, image or sound stored, received or sent in an electronic form or micro-film or computer-generated micro fiche”

Further, Electronic records have also been given an overarching legal recognition through Section 4 of the IT Act which provides that:

“Any law provides that information or any other matter shall be in writing or in the typewritten or printed form, then, notwithstanding anything contained in such law, such requirement shall be deemed to have been satisfied if such information or matter is– (a) rendered or made available in an electronic form; and (b) accessible so as to be usable for a subsequent reference.”

Moreover, Section 79A while authorizing the Central Government to notify the Examiner of Electronic Evidence also explains what would be called “electronic form evidence” as under:

“Electronic form evidence means any information of probative value that is either stored or transmitted in electronic form and includes computer evidence, digital audio, digital video, cell phones, digital fax machines.”

In addition, Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 was also amended to include electronic records as documentary evidence and now it reads as follows:

“all document including electronic records produced for the inspection of the Court, such statements are called documentary evidence”

In the case of State (NCT of Delhi) vs. Navjot Sandhu[1], the Supreme Court had held that courts could admit electronic records such as printouts and compact discs as prima facie evidence without notification.

However, oral admission as to the contents of electronic records is not relevant unless the genuineness of the record produced is in question.[2]

In cases of cybercrime, a suggestive list has been provided by the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal on the type of information that would be considered as evidence while filing any complaint related to cybercrime:

  • Credit card receipt
  • Bank statement
  • Envelope (if received a letter or item through mail or courier)
  • Brochure/Pamphlet
  • Online money transfer receipt
  • Copy of email
  • URL of webpage
  • Chat transcripts
  • Suspect mobile number screenshot
  • Videos
  • Images
  • Any other kind of document

Admissibility of “Electronic Evidence”

Sections 65A and 65B of the Evidence Act particularly deal with the information contained in electronic records. The marginal note to Section 65A indicates that “special provisions” as to evidence relating to electronic records are laid down in this provision. The marginal note to Section 65B then refers to “admissibility of electronic records”.

Section 65B (1)[3] states that if any information contained in an electronic record produced from a computer has been copied onto an optical or magnetic media, then such electronic record that has been copied ‘shall be deemed to be also a document’ subject to conditions set out in Section 65B (2)[4] being satisfied.

Section 65B (2) provides some conditions which are to be satisfied in order to accept electronic records as evidence, which are briefly provided below –

  • the computer was used by a person to store or process information for carrying on any activity regularly over a period of time and has lawful control over the use of such computer,
  • such information must have been regularly fed into the computer in the ordinary course of the said activities. Throughout the material part of the said period, the computer was operating properly, and even if not operating properly, it does not affect the electronic record or accuracy of its contents and
  • information in the electronic record reproduced / derived from information fed into the computer in the ordinary course of the said activities.

In Anvar P.V. vs. P.K. Basheer and ors[5] , the Court has interpreted sections 22A, 45A, 59, 65A & 65B of the Indian Evidence Act and held that secondary data contained in a CD, DVD or a Pen Drive are not admissible without a certificate under section 65 B(4) of the said Act. In the case, it was said that electronic evidence without a certificate under section 65B cannot be proved by oral evidence and also the opinion of the expert under section 45A of the said Act cannot be resorted to make such electronic evidence admissible. After this case, it was clarified that the only way to prove an electronic record/evidence is by producing the original media as primary evidence and the copy of the same as secondary evidence under section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

Thereafter, the Supreme Court in Shafhi Mohammad[6] case, held that the requirement of producing a certificate under Section 65B(4) is procedural and not always mandatory. A party who is not in possession of the device from which the document is produced cannot be required to produce a certificate under Section 65B (4). The Court was of the view that the procedural requirement under Section 65B(4) is to be applied only when electronic evidence is produced by a person who is in control of the said device, and therefore in a position to produce such a certificate. However, if the person is not in possession of the device, Sections 63 and 65 cannot be excluded.

Recently, the Supreme Court in the decision of Arjun Panditrao Khotkar vs. Kailash Kushanrao Gorantyal and Ors.[7]has settled the controversies created by previous judgments as to whether certificate under Section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act is a condition precedent for admissibility of any Secondary electronic record, and at what stage the same may be produced. This judgment arose from a reference by a Division Bench of the Supreme Court, which found that the Division Bench judgment in Shafhi Mohammad v. State of Himachal Pradesh (supra)  required reconsideration in view of the three-judge bench judgment in Anvar P.V. v. P.K. Basheer(supra).Some of the key takeaways from the decision are as follows –

  1. Section 65B differentiates between the original information contained in the “computer” itself and copies made therefrom – the former being primary evidence, and the latter being secondary evidence. Required certificate under Section 65B(4) is unnecessary if the original document itself is produced. This can be done by the owner of a laptop computer, computer tablet, or even a mobile phone, by stepping into the witness box and proving that the concerned device, on which the original information is first stored, is owned and/or operated by him. In cases where the “computer” happens to be a part of a “computer system” or “computer network” and it becomes impossible to physically bring such system or network to the Court, then the only means of providing the information contained in such electronic record can be in accordance with Section 65B(1), together with the requisite certificate Under Section 65B(4).
  2. If the certificate is not issued or refused, the Court may order production of the certificate by the concerned authority.
  3. Evidence aliunde given through a person who was in-charge of a computer device in the place of the requisite certificate is not allowed.
  4. The decision in Anvar P.V. cited above has been upheld and the judgment in Tomaso Bruno v. State of U.P.[8] has been overruled.

The person who gives this certificate can be anyone out of several persons who occupy a ‘responsible official position’ in relation to the operation of the relevant device, as also the person who may otherwise be in the ‘management of relevant activities’ spoken of in Sub-section (4) of Section 65B. Also, it is sufficient that such person gives the requisite certificate to the “best of his knowledge and belief.”

These directions issued by the Supreme Court are welcome as they will improve the efficacy of criminal and investigative proceedings.

When should the certificate be produced?

Although not expressly provided for under the Indian Evidence or the Information Technology Act, the Anvar P.V. case and the Arjun Panditrao case cited above have shed adequate light on the stage at which such certificate must be furnished to the court.

In terms of general procedure, the requisite certificate must accompany the electronic record pertaining to which a statement is sought to be given in evidence when the same is produced in evidence i.e. in a criminal trial, the prosecution is obligated to supply all documents upon which reliance may be placed to an accused before commencement of the trial. Therefore, the electronic evidence, i.e. the computer output, has to be furnished at the latest before the trial begins. The reason is not far to seek; this gives the Accused a fair chance to prepare and defend the charges levelled against him during the trial.

However, the Court may in appropriate cases allow the prosecution to produce such certificate at a later point in time. If it is the Accused who desires to produce the requisite certificate as part of his defense, this again will depend upon the justice of the case discretion to be exercised by the Court in accordance with the law.

Position across the globe

The Indian law relating to electronic evidence has adopted the language of Section 5 of the UK Civil Evidence Act, 1968 to a great extent, however this provision had already been repealed by the UK Civil Evidence Act, 1995 and even Section 69 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984 which related to the admissibility of computer evidence in criminal cases was revamped to permit hearsay evidence. Therefore, in UK currently, no special provisions have been made in respect of the manner of proof of computerized records.

In USA, a person seeking to produce an electronic record has more than one option to do so under the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE). A person can follow either the traditional route under Rule 901 or the route of self-authentication under Rule 902 whereunder a certificate of authenticity would elevate its status. This is a result of an amendment introduced in the year 2017, by which sub-rules (13) and (14) were incorporated in Rule 902.

In Canada, the position is similar to India although the Canadian law takes care of a contingency where the electronic document was recorded or stored by a party who is adverse in interest to the party seeking to produce it. Section 31 of the Canada Evidence Act, 1985 deals with electronic evidence and the application of the ‘best evidence rule’.

The future holds definite challenges as far as electronic evidence is concerned and constant legal overhaul and vigilance of judiciary are anticipated but the legislature also needs to take a proactive step in making laws consistent with the changing technology environment.

References

[1] State (NCT of Delhi) vs. Navjot Sandhu (2005) 11 SCC 600.

[2]Section 22A of Indian Evidence Act

[3] Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

[4] Ibid

[5] Anvar P.V. vs. P.K. Basheer and ors  AIR 2015 SC 180, [MANU/SC/0834/2014]

[6] (2018) 2 SCC 801

[7] 2020 SCC OnLine SC 571

[8] [(2015) 7 SCC 178]

 

Image Credits:  Photo by Maxim Ilyahov on Unsplash

Though the Amended Act endeavours to address issues related to the land acquisition process being faced by industrialists for causing industrial development in Karnataka, ambiguity remains as to what extent the Amended Act shall be able to achieve ease of land acquisition process for tangible industrial development in the state.

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