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Why Are Right-Wing Youths Demanding Digital Sovereignty In India?

Amid growing concerns over the misuse of social media by tech giants, particularly Facebook and Twitter, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the youth wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come up with the demand of “digital sovereignty for India“, similar to the growing demand for and action on the “digital sovereignty for Europe“.

It is interesting to note that the BJYM has taken the lead on this, despite numerous allegations that the BJP has been a disproportionate beneficiary of the biased policies of social media giants in India.

 

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I want to briefly analyse: the very concept of digital sovereignty, its worldwide growing significance, BJYM’s key demands for making India digitally sovereign, and its possible implications on Indian politics.

What Does Digital Sovereignty Mean?

The concept of “digital sovereignty” refers to the ability to have control over one’s own digital destiny—the data, hardware and software that one relies on and creates. Although this concept emerged in the early 2000s, with the unfolding of the information and communication revolution (ICT), the first attempt to systematically define it was made only in 2011.

Pierre Bellanger, the CEO (chief executive officer) of the French radio station “Skyrock” defined it as: “Digital sovereignty is control of our present and destiny as manifested and guided by the use of technology and computer networks.” However, it has now travelled throughout world including India.

The quest for digital sovereignty is argued to be a goal shared by multinational tech companies, public authority stakeholders, internet users, citizens and consumers. Therefore, achieving it is a herculean task for any country. However, countries such as India have started talking about it.

The Growing Significance Of Digital Sovereignty  

Digital sovereignty is becoming a major concern for researchers, policymakers, and public intellectuals, who feel that there is too much control ceded to too few places. There are too little choice in the tech market, and too much power has been vested in the hands of a small number of large, tech companies i.e., GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon).

 

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The above underlined concerns about the digital sovereignty can be summarised as follows:

  1. Digital economy – The world is argued to be moving towards a digital economy where creation, collection and storage of personal data has become a pertinent issue. Data is argued to be the new oil of the future. However, data is mostly getting stored in the US since the headquarters of GAFA are there. These companies are only liable to laws in the US.
  2. Vagueness around future use of personal data – GAFA is argued to have made us accustomed to collectively and voluntarily waiving our rights to our own personal data. We receive services in return for relinquishing our rights, but the future use of the same is unclear. Some companies have already started using stored data to analyse the attitudes and behaviours of their customers, and offer services accordingly.
  3. Manipulating citizens’ behaviour – The aspersion around storage of personal data is that it could be used for altering the behaviours and opinions of citizens. Altering of behaviours and opinions during elections would reinforce the idea of elite democracy. However, altering the behaviour of young and children, through mapping of their likes and dislikes, could be used to predict their decisions in the future. American, moral and political psychologist, Jonathan Haidt has discussed some of these concerns in his seminal book, “The Righteous Mind: Why People Are Divided by Religion and Politics”.
  4. Threat to internal security and unity of countries – One prime concern about the storage of personal data and its future trade, is that it could be used to create threats to the internal security of any country, since the selling of such data to an enemy country could lead to the possibility of accentuating ethnic conflicts in the country. Non-state actors can also misuse data for achieving their objectives.

Making India Digitally Sovereign

The BJYM’s demand for making India digitally sovereign resolves around six points. These demands have been prepared under the presidentship of MP (Member of Parliament) Tejasvi Surya. They were presented in its recent annual meeting by vice president Abhinav Prakash.

  1. All multinational tech companies must follow all domestic laws in their entirety, and institutionalise the required processes and provisions prescribed by such laws.
  2. The foreign corporate terms of service can’t override tje fundamental rights of Indian citizens, such as the right to freedom of expression, and the right to privacy, as guaranteed by the Indian constitution.
  3. The adjudication of any disputes between multinational tech platforms and Indian content creators is exclusively the preserve of Indian institutions and courts.
  4. The community standards and moderation mechanisms for Indian users should be developed, adjudicated and controlled in India, subject to Indian laws and institutions.
  5. All critical data generated in India ought to be localised, and all decision-making and algorithms must be subject to Indian rules and regulations.
  6. Under no circumstances, the tech companies can overrule or circumvent the digital sovereignty of the republic of India.

Baby Steps Towards Digital Sovereignty

Before the BJYM‘s demands, the Indian government had already taken baby steps in its quest for digital sovereignty.

The banning of Chinese apps after military clashes on the Indo-Tibet border, the introduction of Digital Media Ethics Rules, 2021, the summoning of Twitter by a parliamentary committee, are some examples of the same.

 

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However, these steps have also been criticised as attempts to regulate the freedom of speech and expression of citizens.

Implications Of The Demand For Digital Sovereignty

The issues and concerns around the idea of digital sovereignty throughout the world, deal with the future of youths and children. Therefore, this issue needs wider participation from the youth and students. We need more discussions around it.

In mu opinon, right-wing youth organisations have taken the lead in India so far. They have started the debate on this issue. Now, it would be interesting to see how youth and student wings of other political parties respond to it.

But. one thing can be clearly predicted at this stage: this issue is going to enter India’s electoral politics, because the youth wing of the ruling BJP has already incorporated it in its demands.

Featured image is for representational purposes only. Photo credit: Flickr.
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