Robust internet governance for India

The Personal Data Protection Bill and the IT Act can act as deterrents, and come into effect primarily after a crime has been committed. How do we ensure that we don’t end up merely closing the stable doors after the horse has bolted?

Robust internet governance for India
The underground cybercriminal market for medical data is so large it equals or surpasses the GDPs of many countries. (IE)

How do we make India the world’s manufacturing, pharmaceutical, healthcare, and startup hub for decades to come? How do we show the world we are serious about data security, privacy, and more? How does India protect its data from nations and entities who wish us harm? Addressing these many challenges in our internet-based world requires a roadmap—that of robust internet governance.

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The concept of internet governance is to uphold the very principle on which the internet was founded—to give everyone a voice, and to make sure every voice matters. India has over 800 million internet users, and the number is rising steadily. In the past, the term ‘internet governance’ had been relegated to conceptual discussions among elites and academics. But now, with India fast-becoming one of the biggest data powerhouses, internet governance is no longer abstract—it is real, tangible, and critical to protect internet-related rights of everyone in India and create more opportunities to grow responsibly.

Let’s look at a burgeoning sector—manufacturing. Many companies are focused on Industry 4.0, plants that focus on the future and streamline their physical and digital worlds. This helps develop the hyper-efficient factories of the future. Artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), and connected technologies are vital in assisting manufacturers in staying agile and generating high-quality output at incredible speeds. And in these turbulent times across the globe, corporations are turning to India for our stability and presence in the Asian continent. The latest example is Apple’s investment plans in India for manufacturing. As the Wall Street Journal reported (, Apple plans to move as much as 40-50% of its iPhone manufacturing to India.

Another sector that is ripe for growth but with greater urgency for digital data rights is healthcare. With the ‘One Nation, One Card’ campaign, the central government aims to digitise all our health records. Benefits include having hospitals, doctors, treatments, and diagnostics on one server. Patients can take just one card to any hospital where their medical history will be available. This type of transparency is critical during emergency hospitalisations and prevents specific hospitals from holding patient records hostage to keep them from getting treated elsewhere. This type of data can help boost preventive health in this country. If a family doctor detects high blood pressure in a patient, and later on, the patient visits another hospital where a high cholesterol level is identified, a steady chain of health records can help doctors put two and two together to counsel the patient toward better health earlier.

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However, these health benefits come with a catch. The underground cybercriminal market for medical data is so large it equals or surpasses the GDPs of many countries. Known as the ‘dark web,’ cybercriminals can sell medical data for huge sums. Cybercriminals have held hospital data hostage in exchange for large ransom. In December 2022, 150,000 patient records were stolen from a Tamil Nadu hospital and sold on the internet. Cyberattacks stopped activity like appointments, registration, billing, lab report generation, and more in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. These threats are real, and as we digitise more, we will see much more of these breaches unless there is oversight and guidance.

While manufacturing and healthcare are established sectors India would like to expand, there is a fledgling industry that offers lots of promise, provided we nourish it from its seedling stage. There is enormous potential to put India in first place for internet gaming. The ecosystem exists. Online gaming revenue in India grew 28% in 2021 to $1.2 billion, estimated to reach $1.9 billion by 2024. With over 130 billion users in India, we have the largest fantasy sports market in the world. Additionally, Indian gaming companies can also capture the vast online gaming market demand. For a new entrant, we have done very well with over three unicorns in the online gaming space.

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The Personal Data Protection Bill aims to set rules and laws around personal data in India. The IT Act covers parts of cybersecurity under its umbrella. But the reality is that these laws can act as a deterrent and come into effect primarily after a crime has been committed. How do we ensure we are not just closing the stable door after the (digital) horse has fled? It involves specialists from all aspects of the internet—broadband experts, IT specialists, data privacy lawyers, cybersecurity experts, human rights advocates, accessibility SMEs, and many more. This will energise Digital India.

The writer is president, Broadband India Forum

With research inputs by Chandana Bala

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First published on: 21-12-2022 at 02:30 IST