Speaking at the 15th India Digital Summit, Communications, Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad noted that national security will be central with regard to exposure of international companies, including those from China, in the country.
WhatsApp has drawn massive criticism from users globally, including India over concerns that data was being shared with its parent company, Facebook. WhatsApp, on its part, has maintained that messages on the platform are end-to-end encrypted and that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see the private messages on WhatsApp's platform.
"This is an issue that my department is (working) on, and being the final authority, it will not be proper for me to make comments. But except to flag one thing very clearly. Be it WhatsApp, be it Facebook, be it any digital platform. You are free to do business in India but do it in a manner without impinging upon the rights of Indians who operate there," Prasad said.
He added that the sanctity of personal communications needs to be maintained.
"I've only spoken on principles, given that my department is working. I have to await that," he said.
However, WhatsApp drew flak from users across the globe, including India that ranks among the biggest markets for WhatsApp with over 400 million users.
Following this, WhatsApp has now decided to delay the rollout of its new policy update to May 15, and said it will "do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp".
WhatsApp had also stated that it is open to answering any questions from the government on the issue and that it remains committed to the privacy and security of users across India.
Asked about participation of Chinese companies in offering their products in India, Prasad said "it will neither be prudent nor desirable for me to take the name of any country, except to highlight the general policy initiative which we are following".
"Yes, we banned apps because the issue was data privacy, issue was national security, issue was national sovereignty. Therefore, in any exposure of companies, national security angle will also be taken, be it private or government. As far as the relevant financial routes are concerned, some changes have also taken place with regard to countries having physical adjacency with India," he said.
Sharing his views about data, Prasad said data must be procured through free consent, it must be used for the objective for which it has been collected, and the data fiduciary who has procured that data must ensure proper safety and sanctity of that data.
"I do acknowledge the implicit need for data movement across the globe to keep digital commerce intact. But the ground rule of that movement must be very clearly laid out. Next, there must be the reciprocity in the data sharing of the world. And again, we shall never compromise on our digital sovereignty," he said.
Prasad said India produces billions of data with its population of 1.3 billion people.
"I want India to become a big centre of data economy in the future. When I talk about the data economy, I mean data cleaning, data processing and data innovation. India has huge potential to become a data refinery... Therefore, the data economy must prosper in India by developing a complete ecosystem," he said.
He further stated that the "world is also looking towards our data law which we are going to bring very soon".
The Minister also spoke of the success of the production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme. He said the scheme was launched during the height of COVID in April 2020 and "... all the top companies have applied, and they have committed to make mobile phones and equipment worth Rs 10 lakh crores in the coming five years out of which Rs 7 lakh crore is for exports.
"India is today the hub of mobile manufacturing and this process is irreversible... India must become the biggest manufacturing centre of laptops, of machine 2 machine equipment, of tablets etc. I want to develop that ecosystem from mobile phones, to smart phones to laptops to tablets to IoT devices. India must become a huge center of these equipment manufacturing," he said.
On 5G, the Minister urged Indian players to create an Indian 5G model.
"As far as 5G is concerned, 5G is still evolving. We missed 2G and 3G but we don't want to miss 5G. Therefore, we developed an Indian test bed, and IITs are involved, so that all innovative aspects of 5G can be considered... Indian players must be proactive in creating an Indian 5G model," he said.
He added that 5G must be developed in order to enable inclusive character of its processes for sectors like healthcare, education and agriculture.