Parliament Watch: No data on internet shutdowns but much ado about Aadhaar linkage, cryptocurrency and more

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The Government of India stuck to its usual stand-by of feigning ignorance with regards to censorship data. As such, it had no focused answers regarding internet shutdowns or social media regulations.

Nonetheless, the central government had a lot to say about its success on Aadhar linkage with ration cards, cryptocurrency and lower digital frauds. Here’s a summary on all that was said in the last week on these topics and more.

Where’s the data on internet shutdowns?

Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh asked the government to confirm with data points whether India is the leading country in the number of internet disruptions and internet shutdowns. However, the central government said it has no data regarding such incidents because temporary internet suspensions are handled by state governments.

“Centralized data of internet shutdown is not maintained by the government,” said the Information and Broadcasting Ministry when asked about the number of internet shutdowns in the last five years. Singh had also asked whether “internet shutdowns have been regularly used as a tool for routine policing and even administrative purposes and not for public emergencies” but got no response.

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99% of total ration cards linked with Aadhaar

The government declared that 99.1 percent of 19.5 crore ration cards under National Food Security Act (NFSA) have been seeded with the Aadhaar number of at least one person in every household. The rest of the ration cards are expected to be seeded by September 30.

Meanwhile, regarding questions about the ‘Performance audit on functioning of UIDAI,’ the government said 5,98,999 Aadhaar cards were cancelled by May 31 for being duplicate and for other reasons.

Dubious response on social media accountability

MP Asaduddin Owaisi asked the government whether it came out with a “new accountable regime for social media companies” through the updated IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital media Ethics Code) Rule 2021. In his follow-up question he asked, “If so, whether these rules are not sufficient to keep a check on the unlawful, inflammatory and illegal content and conversation on such platform?”

To this the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) said, “As per the IT Rules, 2021, the online intermediaries including social media intermediaries have been mandated to develop a robust grievance redressal system for their users. They are required to publish privacy policy, rules and regulations and terms and conditions. They are also expected to remove any unlawful content as and when brought to their knowledge either through a court order or through a notice by appropriate government or its authorized agency. They are also expected to act on any information violative of their policies as and when it comes to their knowledge.”

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Regarding government efforts to enhance the accountability for social media companies by amending IT laws, the government said it will further update Part 2 of the IT Act.

Cryptocurrency regulation in the Indian context

Ban cryptocurrency? The Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) voiced concerns that cryptocurrencies will have a destabilising effect on India’s monetary and fiscal stability. While it did recommend framing legislation for this sector, the RBI advised that cryptocurrencies be prohibited. This is because any legislation for regulation or for banning of cryptocurrencies can be effective only after significant international collaboration.

No tax exemption: Rajya Sabha MP Abdul Wahab asked the government whether it planned to exempt cryptocurrency transactions from taxes. To this, the government said there is no such proposal under consideration. Further, regarding attempts to deter risky cryptocurrency transactions, it said the RBI has advised its regulated entities to continue to carry out customer due diligence processes for transactions in VCs, in line with regulations governing standards for Know Your Customer (KYC), Anti-Money Laundering (AML), Combating of Financing of Terrorism (CFT), obligations under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002, etc.

Cryptos and NFTs as VDAs: In response to queries regarding the status of cryptocurrencies and NFTs, the government said, “through Finance Act, 2022, clause (47A) was inserted to section 2 of the Act to provide definition of virtual digital assets (VDA) to mean any information or code or number or token (not being Indian currency or foreign currency), generated through cryptographic means or otherwise, by whatever name called, providing a digital representation of value exchanged with or without consideration, with the promise or representation of having inherent value, or functions as a store of value or a unit of account including its use in any financial transaction or investment, but not limited to investment scheme; and can be transferred, stored or traded electronically. Non fungible token and any other token of similar nature are included in the definition.”

Further, the central government specified a token which qualifies to be a virtual digital asset as non-fungible token within the meaning of sub-clause (a) of clause (47A) of section 2 of the Act but shall not include a non-fungible token whose transfer results in transfer of ownership of underlying tangible asset and the transfer of ownership of such underlying tangible asset is legally enforceable.

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Claims of decreased digital transaction frauds

Citing RBI data, the government said that instances of digital fraud declined from 70,283 incidents in 2020- 21 to 58,111 incidents in 2021-22. However, it failed to provide city-specific data because “the data is captured only at the National level.”

Over 500 YouTube channels blocked

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said that it blocked 78 YouTube-based news channels and their social media accounts for public access between 2021 and 2022 under Section 69A of Information Technology Act, 2000. Similarly, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) blocked 560 YouTube URLs between 2021 and 2022. However, the government failed to answer MP Manickam Tagore B.’s question on whether these sites were blocked for “spreading false and unverified information.”

Over 8,000 complaints against cab aggregators

As many as 8,740 consumer grievances were registered against major cab aggregator companies January 2020 to July 2022. Consumers complained about deficiency in services, inadequate consumer grievance redressal mechanism, cancellation by drivers, etc. as per the data from the National Consumer Helpline (NCH). Based on these complaints, the Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Ministry sent notices to two major online ride hailing platforms. In the questions, MPs specifically mentioned Ola and Uber.

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448 notices to E-Commerce entities

A total of 448 notices were issued by the Legal Metrology Division, Department of Consumer Affairs to E-Commerce entities. It issued 38 notices between October 16, 2020 and December 31, 2020 and another 232 notices between January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021. Later between January 1, 222 to July 11, 2022the division issued 178 notices. Compounding fees amounting to ₹ 77, 90,500 were realized from e-commerce companies.

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