In the era of pandemic, digital platforms and social media are developing rapidly. The Internet has connected more than 2.5 billion users worldwide, providing young people with opportunities to connect, communicate, educate and ultimately expand their horizons. However, in India, several socio-economic differences based on gender or race and other sectors have affected the equal use and safe use of digital platforms, thereby widening the existing digital divide.

Young people, especially girls, are often targets of online abuse and harassment. They are also vulnerable online, and they are generally discouraged from accessing digital resources. In addition, legal restrictions prevent this group in India from safely and independently participating in online platforms.

Despite the risks of digital media, such as cyberbullying, lack of clear privacy rules, and behavioral addiction, the benefits go far beyond these. The benefits include bridging the communication gap, promoting citizen participation and disseminating knowledge.

Ranjana Kumari believes that the restricted scope of India’s legal framework makes it difficult for young people to access online resources
Image source: Social Research Center

Recovering from the pandemic, the Internet has also helped classrooms and playgrounds to sustain their livelihoods virtually, and has become a means of continuing education and development for children. A thought-provoking example that triggers effective social media participation can be: 17-year-old climate change Swedish activist Greta Thunberg uses the power of social media to mobilize other young people to raise awareness of climate change.

Digital platforms have also become excellent business opportunities for young people. Marketing small businesses, blogs and even creating original content through monetization are all growing rapidly. Popular creators such as Prajakta Koli and Mithila Palkar have established audience participation and credibility through the platform before becoming mainstream influencers. The power of the Internet is endless, and it will prove very useful to provide young people with access to this method.

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However, India’s legal framework is broad in scope, which makes it difficult for young Indians to access online resources. Unlike global standards, India classifies children under the age of 18 and sets it as a standard for independent access to online forums. India’s draft data privacy law also attempts to introduce age verification and parental consent procedures for people under 18 years of age. Given that Internet governance is a shared responsibility, it is necessary for private companies to cooperate with the Indian government to improve data privacy and security regulations and provide a structure for the safety of online users (especially young people).

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) passed the Information Technology Act of 2000 to provide a legal framework to mitigate cybercrime and other forms of online abuse. In addition, the Personal Data Protection Act of 2019 aims to regulate the data of minors. The bill classifies anyone under the age of 18 as a child and requires that their personal data be processed only with parental consent and their age is verified. The draft law also restricts any advertising targeting or behavior tracking targeting minors’ data.

Behavior tracking can help companies maintain the safety and privacy of their minors’ experience. If the company is unable to continue this practice, it may risk exposing children to harmful content online. The latest example of the harmful unintended consequences of prohibited behavior tracking comes from the European Union. The EU’s “Privacy Directive” came into effect on December 21, 2020, resulting in companies banning automated routine tools and unable to detect child abuse online.

Here, the bill assumes that the processing and targeting of children’s data is always for harmful purposes, and the provision does not consider any other potential uses or benefits of online networks or the Internet.

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India has not reformed the social network to connect the legal framework and context of digital security and child protection. Unlike its global counterparts, the Indian government should create ways to enforce reporting policies and set clear legal consequences for online abuse and harassment. This leads to the ambiguity of effectively ensuring a consistent safe and regulated environment for users (especially young people).

For example, in the United States, social media companies that comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act require users to be at least 13 years old. Only young people need verifiable parental consent. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation sets the age range between 13 and 16 to maintain strict privacy rules for children and adolescents (subject to parental consent). Although the GDPR does not provide any guidance on higher standards for children’s data in practice, some EU countries have begun to design their own protection measures and enforcement of children’s data rights. Tighter controls have been put in place on applications that process UK children’s data, online games, educational websites and streaming services. Brazil’s data protection law came into effect in August 2020 and currently provides a balanced protection for children’s online privacy.

In Indian law, the definition of a child varies. For example, in the framework of the Indian Criminal Law, the Child Marriage and Restraint Law. However, the Indian Contract Act of 1872 and the Indian Majority Act of 1875 stipulated an age limit of 18 years. This is also reflected in the PDP Act.

In terms of age of consent and strengthening the digital security of Internet children, India’s emerging privacy framework is relatively obscure. If used in a responsible manner, such restrictions may deprive children of the benefits provided by the online world.

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Compared with India, why India sets the upper age limit at 18 years old, there is no clear legal position. The reality is that children under the age of 13 are already accessing the Internet instead of lying in order to use the online network. They use it in school, connect with their peers, entertainment and leisure activities. More secure forums and regulations need to be carefully planned to protect the privacy and comfort of young users. The privacy of a 13-year-old child is very different from that of a 17-year-old child, and therefore cannot be classified into the same category. Instead, it is a better choice to consider broader regulations based on different age groups, as regulations in the legal framework surrounding digital security and privacy.

Consider the maturity of children in different age groups and adopt a narrower method that only requires mandatory age verification for children or websites that know their services will be used by children (such as the US legal framework). Ideal. In order to make the “India PDP Act” and similar frameworks more effective and ultimately consistent with international standards, more mature factors must be considered, including maturity, right to consent, and right to privacy.

Dr. Ranjana Kumari is the Director of the Center for Social Studies and the Chair of Women Power Connect.

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