Student views: Is India ready for Web 3.0?

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By Janay Jain & Rhea Rao

Tech trends such as the metaverse, cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have been dominating public discourse. It is touted that these developments will come to the forefront in the next phase of the internet, i.e. Web 3.0 (a term coined in 2014 by Gavin Wood, the co-founder of Ethereum, while referring to the future of the internet built using blockchain technology).

Blockchain is supposed to serve as the building block upon which the metaverse will be built by different companies. Cryptocurrencies will act as a digital currency and NFTs will enable ownership of assets in a digital form. Web 3.0 can disrupt businesses with the introduction of ‘smart contracts’ and ‘decentralised autonomous organisations’. The introduction of these systems may alienate the larger banking and legal ecosystem in which companies and other organisations operate. More importantly, Web 3.0, with its focus on transparency and decentralisation, will have the potential of changing life as we know it.

So, is India ready for Web 3.0?The law mirrors the society. As society advances and technological breakthroughs happen, these changes must showcase in our laws. So, is there a regulatory framework to deal with the challenges posed by Web 3.0? While the framework in the form of the Information Technology Act, 2000, does exist, it appears ill-equipped to deal with Web 3.0.

The IT Act was conceived in the midst of the historic dotcom era. Its purpose was to facilitate India’s move online by granting recognition to digital documents. One of its most dazzling features was legal recognition of digital signatures. It was digital India’s first foray into law-making for the virtual space.

Considering the time during which it was passed, its utility lay in tackling issues that sprung up in Web 1.0, where the user was mostly passive and absorbed content on webpages. Subsequently, with the advent of Web 2.0, the internet grew to become interactive, and the user transformed from a passive consumer to an active content generator. We also witnessed the rise of tech behemoths and the monetisation of user data for advertising. These benefits brought with them a host of challenges, such as online hate, violence and abuse. This was the first instance of the IT Act falling short. The legislature reacted by plugging the holes with piecemeal amendments that merely scratched the surface. As Web 3.0 ushers in the next phase of the internet revolution, the IT Act is woefully inept to deal with such developments (it is still struggling to accommodate the challenges posed by Web 2.0).

While the IT Act has sufficient provisions to tackle the vulnerabilities posed by Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 (such as hacking, cyber fishing, computer contamination and destruction of storage), it doesn’t have a comprehensive strategy to deal with cybercrimes or to safeguard a user’s privacy. Additionally, many of its provisions are redundant. It is only with the introduction of additional rules—such as the recently announced Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code—that the legislature attempts to bring the IT Act to speed.

Technology has matured vastly from the days when its purpose was limited to storage of files and conversion of signatures. In Web 3.0, platforms will have access to vast amounts of personal data encompassing body movements, facial features, geospatial data, voices and psychological data, amongst others. Also, unlike right now, users will not be required to provide this data to platforms, but their data will be seamlessly catalogued as they continue life in the new realm.

Simply put, the IT Act currently functions like an instruction manual for a typewriter in an age of augmented reality. With the next phase of the web revolution fast approaching, it will be imperative for the government to ensure that whilst legislating on such technologies, they leave sufficient breathing space to enable growth and intended usage. Interests of shareholders, including platforms, developers, users and the State itself, will have to be considered. While this is a mammoth task, it also presents the government with a golden opportunity to bring about a balanced legislation for a development that signals the dawn of a new era.

Authors are final year law students at the Government Law College, Mumbai. Views are personal