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Daily Current Affairs 24.01.2021 (Omicron in community transmission: INSACOG,‘Govt. ignored Tokyo’s Renkoji temple offer’,Only Indian tunes at Beating Retreat: officials,A proposal for Indian Environmental Service,The need for shared parenting,Reining in the power of tech giants)

Daily Current Affairs 24.01.2021 (Omicron in community transmission: INSACOG,‘Govt. ignored Tokyo’s Renkoji temple offer’,Only Indian tunes at Beating Retreat: officials,A proposal for Indian Environmental Service,The need for shared parenting,Reining in the power of tech giants)

ias academy in chennai

1. Omicron in community transmission: INSACOG

‘Most cases mild, but hospitalisations, ICU cases up’

Omicron is now in community transmission in India and has become dominant in multiple metros, where new cases have been rising exponentially, the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) said in its latest bulletin on Sunday.

INSACOG, jointly initiated by the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry, the Department of Biotechnology and others, is a consortium of 38 laboratories monitoring the genomic variations in SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19.

The two-page bulletin, dated January 10 and released on Sunday, says while most Omicron cases so far had been asymptomatic or mild, hospitalisations and ICU cases had been increasing in the current wave. The threat level remained unchanged.

The recently reported new SARS-CoV-2 variant — B.1.640.2 — lineage was being monitored, it added and said there was no evidence of rapid spread and while it had features of immune escape, it was currently not a variant of concern. “So far, no case detected in India,” the bulletin said.

BA.2 lineage, it added, was a substantial fraction in India and S-gene dropout-based screening was thus likely to give high false negatives. Tests suitable for PCR-based screening applicable to all Omicron lineages had been approved. S-gene drop-out was a genetic variation like that of Omicron.

Omicron

  • Omicron is placed in the most-troubling category of Covid-19 variants, along with the globally-dominant Delta plus its weaker rivals Alpha, Beta and Gamma.
  • This variant has a large number of mutations. Some of them are cause for serious concern because they may allow the new variant to evade immunity obtained from a past infection or via a vaccine.

Nomenclature:

  • The WHO has decided to name the variants after the letters of the Greek alphabet, to avoid the countries that first detected them being stigmatised.
  • WHO selected the name Omicron, instead of Nu or Xi, the two letters between Mu and Omicron. This is because:
  • Xi happens to be a popular surname in China (avoiding ‘causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups).
  • Nu could have been confused with the word ‘new’.

Variants of Concern

A variant for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (e.g., increased hospitalizations or deaths), significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.

The new Variants could kick off new wave(s) of epidemic transmission.

The WHO currently lists 5 variants of concern:

  • Omicron (B.1.1.529), identified in southern Africa in November 2021
  • Delta (B.1.617.2), which emerged in India in late 2020 and spread around the world
  • Gamma (P.1), which emerged in Brazil in late 2020
  • Beta (B.1.351), which emerged in South Africa in early 2020
  • Alpha (B.1.1.7), which merged in Britain in late 2020.

Mutation, Variant and Strain

  • When a virus replicates it doesn’t always manage to produce an exact copy of itself.
  • This means that, over time, the virus may start to differ slightly in terms of its genetic sequence. 
  • Any changes to the viral genetic sequence during this process is known as a Mutation.
  • Viruses with new mutations are sometimes called Variants. Variants can differ by one or multiple mutations.
  • When a new variant has different functional properties to the original virus and becomes established in a population, it is sometimes referred to as a New Strain of the virus.

    • All strains are variants, but not all variants are strains.

2. ‘Govt. ignored Tokyo’s Renkoji temple offer’

Tokyo’s Renkoji temple gave permission to Indian authorities to conduct DNA tests on ashes said to be those of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, according to fresh translation of a letter which refutes claims that the temple was “reticent”, placing doubts on a commission of enquiry’s ruling that the ashes were not Netaji’s’, Madhuri Bose, his grand-niece, says.

A new translation of a letter in Japanese written by the chief priest of Tokyo’s Renkoji temple to the Indian government in 2005 revealed that permission was given for DNA test of the remains to the Justice M.K. Mukherjee Commission. This portion of the letter was not translated and an edited English version was attached to the Justice Mukherjee Commission’s report on the disappearance of Bose as evidence that “on account of the Temple Authorities reticence… the commission could not proceed further [on the issue of DNA tests]” and concluded that the ashes were not of Netaji’s, she said.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Biography: As per an official, the celebration for Republic Day from this year will start on January 23 instead of January 24 to include the birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. PM Narendra Modi government “focus to commemorate important aspects of our history and culture.”

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was an Indian Nationalist whose patriotism towards India has left a mark in the hearts of many Indians. He is famously known as the founder of ‘Azad Hind Fauj’ and his famous slogan is ‘Tum Mujhe Khoon Do, Main Tumhe Aazadi Dunga’. 

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was born on  23 January,1897 in Cuttack, Orissa and he died on 18 August,1945, in a hospital in Taiwan after suffering from burn injuries sustained in a plane crash. 

Subhas Chandra Bose is considered the most influential freedom fighter with extraordinary leadership skills and a charismatic orator. His famous slogans are ‘tum mujhe khoon do, main tumhe aazadi dunga’, ‘Jai Hind’, and ‘Delhi Chalo’. He formed Azad Hind Fauj and made several contributions to India’s freedom struggle. He is known for his militant approach that he used to gain independence and for his socialist policies. 

Date of Birth: January 23, 1897
Place of Birth: Cuttack, Odisha
Parents: Janakinath Bose (father) and Prabhavati Devi (mother)
Spouse: Emily Schenkl
Children: Anita Bose Pfaff
Education: Ravenshaw Collegiate School, Cuttack; Presidency College, Calcutta; University of Cambridge, England
Associations (Political Party): Indian National Congress; Forward Bloc; Indian National Army
Movements: Indian Freedom Movement
Political Ideology: Nationalism; Communism; Fascism-inclined
Religious Beliefs: Hinduism

Subhas Chandra Bose: Family history and early life

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was born on 23 January, 1897 in Cuttack (Orissa)  to Prabhavati Dutt Bose and Janakinath Bose. His father was a successful lawyer in Cuttack and received the title of “Rai Bahadur”. He did his schooling from the Protestant European School (presently Stewart High School) in Cuttack, just like his siblings. He did baccalaureate from the Presidency College. He was influenced by the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna after reading their works at the age of 16. He then was sent by his parents to the University of Cambridge in England to prepare for the Indian Civil Service. In 1920 he passed the civil service examination, but in April 1921, after hearing of the nationalist turmoils in India, he resigned his candidacy and hurried back to India.

Subhas Chandra Bose and Indian National Congress

He joined Non-Cooperation Movement which was started by Mahatama Gandhi who made INC a powerful non-violent organization. During the movement, he was advised by Mahatma Gandhi to work with Chittaranjan Das who became his political guru. After that, he became a youth educator and commandant of the Bengal Congress volunteers. He started the newspaper ‘Swaraj’. In 1927, after being released from prison, Bose became general secretary of the Congress party and worked with Jawaharlal Nehru for independence.

In 1938 he was elected president of the Indian National Congress and formed a national planning committee, which formulated a policy of broad industrialization. However, this did not harmonize with Gandhian economic thought, which clung to the notion of cottage industries and benefiting from the use of the country’s own resources. Bose’s vindication came in 1939 when he defeated a Gandhian rival for reelection. Nonetheless, the “rebel president” felt bound to resign because of the lack of Gandhi’s support.

Subhas Chandra Bose and the formation of Forward Bloc

All India Forward Bloc was a left-wing nationalist political party in India that emerged as a faction within the India Congress in 1939, led by Subhas Chandra Bose. He was well known for his leftist views in Congress. The prime objective of the Froward Bloc was to bring all radical elements of the Congress party. So that he could spread the meaning of complete independence of India with adherence to the application of principles of equality and social justice.

Subhas Chandra Bose and Indian National Army (INA) or Azad Hind Fauz

An important development in the struggle for freedom during the Second World War was the formation and activities of the Azad Hind Fauj, also known as the Indian National Army, or INA. Rash Behari Bose, an Indian revolutionary who had escaped from India and had been living in Japan for many years, set up the Indian independence league with the support of Indians living in the countries of south-east Asia.

When Japan defeated the British armies and occupied almost all the countries of south-East Asia, the league formed the Indian National Army from among the Indian prisoners of war with the aim of liberating India from British rule. General Mohan Singh, who had been an officer in the British Indian army, played an important role in organizing this army.

In the meantime, Subhas Chandra Bose had escaped from India in 1941 and gone to Germany to work for India’s Independence. In 1943, he came to Singapore to lead the Indian Independence League and rebuild the Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj) to make it an effective instrument for the freedom of India. The Azad Hind Fauj comprised about 45,000 soldiers, among who were Indian prisoners of war as well as Indians who were settled in various countries of south-east Asia.

On 21 October 1943, Subhas Bose, who was now popularly known as Netaji, proclaimed the formation of the provisional government of independent India (Azad Hind) in Singapore. Netaji went to the Andaman which had been occupied by the Japanese and hoisted there the flag of India. In early 1944, three units of the Azad Hind Fauj (INA) took part in the attack on the north-eastern parts of India to oust the British from India. According to Shah Nawaz Khan, one of the most prominent officers of the Azad Hind Fauj, the soldiers who had entered India laid themselves flat on the ground and passionately kissed the sacred soil of their motherland. However, the attempt to liberate India by the Azad Hind Fauj failed.

The Indian nationalist movement did not view the Japanese government as a friend of India. Its sympathies were with the people of those countries which had fallen victims to Japan’s aggression. Netaji, however, believed that with the help of the Azad Hind Fauj, supported by Japan, and a revolt inside India, the British rule over India could be ended. The Azad Hind Fauj, with the slogan of ‘Delhi Chalo’ and the salutation Jai Hind was a source of inspiration to Indians, inside and outside the country. Netaji rallied together with the Indians of all religions and regions, living in southeast Asia, for the cause of India’s freedom.

Indian women also played an important role in the activities for the freedom of India. A women’s regiment of Azad Hind Fauj was formed, which was under the command of Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan. It was called the Rani Jhansi regiment. The Azad Hind Fauj became the symbol of unity and heroism to the people of India. Netaji, who had been one of the greatest leaders of India’s struggle for freedom, was reported killed in an air crash a few days after Japan had surrendered.

The Second World War ended in 1945 with the defeat of fascist Germany and Italy. Millions of people were killed in the war. When the war was nearing its end and Italy and Germany had already been defeated, the U.S.A. dropped atom bombs on the two cities of Japan-Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Within a few moments, these cities were burnt to the ground and over 200,000 people were killed. Japan surrendered soon after this. Though the use of the atom bombs brought the war to a close, it led to new tensions in the world and to a new competition for making more and more deadly weapons that might destroy all mankind.

3. Only Indian tunes at Beating Retreat: officials

‘Plan for 75th year of Independence’

Responding to criticism over the dropping of the hymn Abide with me from the Beating Retreat event this year, government sources said on Sunday that this year being the 75th year of Independence, playing of Indian tunes was considered more appropriate.

“This year, only Indian origin or indigenous tunes are on the list,” a government source said on Sunday. Abide with me will not be played this year so as to include the maximum number of Indian tunes, the source said.

‘Ae mere watan ke logon’ is an Indian tune and pays respect to all who laid down their lives for the safety and integrity of the nation, the source added.

Phasing out of tunes handed down from a colonial past and including tunes that have a wider and deeper connect with the people of India is an exercise, another government source said.

Former Union Minister and senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram said Abide with me was a Christian hymn written in 1847 but no longer “only” a Christian hymn. “The hymn was part of the Beating Retreat ceremony since 1950,” he said on Twitter.

“The intolerance of the BJP government has reached such proportions that there are no words to condemn their attitude and outrageous actions,” he added.

At the Republic Day parade this year, there will be a total of 16 marching contingents, said Major General Alok Kackar, Chief of Staff, Delhi Area, in a briefing on the Army’s participation at the parade.

Due to COVID-19, this year too, the parade will end at National Stadium and not go to the Red Fort, he stated.

4. A proposal for Indian Environmental Service

What were the recommendations of the T.S.R Subramanian report on environment?

The Subramanian committee was set up in August 2014 to review the country’s green laws and the procedures followed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC). It suggested several amendments to align with the then Government’s economic development agenda. But a Parliamentary Standing Committee rejected the report on the grounds that it diluted key aspects of environmental legislation.

The report proposed an ‘Environmental Laws (Management) Act’, under which two expert bodies, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and State Environmental Management Authority (SEMA), will be constituted at the Central and State levels to evaluate project clearance in a time bound manner. It also proposed a National Environment Research institute and an Indian Environment Service (IES) to recruit qualified human resource in the environment sector.

The Supreme Court responding to a petition filed by lawyer Samar Vijay Singh has asked the Centre if it is planning to constitute an IES.

Jacob P Koshy

The story so far: The Supreme Court has asked the Government if it will create an Indian Environmental Service (IES) as recommended by a committee headed by former Cabinet secretary T.S.R Subramanian in 2014.

What is the T.S.R Subramanian committee report on environment?

The Subramanian committee was set up in August 2014 to review the country’s green laws and the procedures followed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC). It suggested several amendments to align with the Government’s economic development agenda. The report submitted to then Union environment minister, Prakash Javadekar had suggested amendments to almost all green laws, including those relating to environment, forest, wildlife and coastal zone clearances. The committee had three months to submit its report. After it did, a Parliamentary Standing Committee rejected the report on the grounds that it ended up diluting key aspects of environmental legislation designed to protect the environment. The committee suggested that another committee, with more expertise and time, be constituted to review the environmental laws.

What did the T.S.R report recommend?

The report proposed an ‘Environmental Laws (Management) Act’ (ELMA), that envisioned full-time expert bodies—National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and State Environmental Management Authority (SEMA)—to be constituted at the Central and State levels respectively to evaluate project clearance (using technology and expertise), in a time bound manner, providing for single-window clearance. To accelerate the environmental decision-making process, they suggested a “fast track” procedure for “linear” projects (roads, railways and transmission lines), power and mining projects and for “projects of national importance.” The Air Act and the Water Act is to be subsumed within the Environment Protection Act. The existing Central Pollution Control Board and the State Pollution Control Boards, which monitor and regulate the conditions imposed on the industries to safeguard environment, are proposed to be integrated into NEMA and SEMA once the new bodies come into existence.

It also suggested an appellate mechanism against the decisions of NEMA/SEMA or MoEF&CC, in respect of project clearance, prescribing a three-month deadline to dispose appeals.

The report also recommends that an “environmental reconstruction cost” should be assessed for each project on the basis of the damage caused by it to the environment and this should be added into the cost of the project. This cost has to be recovered as a cess or duty from the project proponent during the life of the project. At the tail end, it proposed a National Environment Research institute “on the lines of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education” to bring in the application of high-end technology in environment governance and finally, an Indian Environment Service to recruit qualified and skilled human resource in the environment sector.

Has the report been accepted by the Government?

The Centre never formally accepted this report and neither constituted a new committee as recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee. However, many of these recommendations are implicitly making their way into the process of environmental regulation. The Government has proposed rewrites to the Forest Conservation laws, set timelines to the pace at which expert committees that appraise the suitability of infrastructure projects must proceed, as well as sought to make existing laws consonant with court judgements.

How did the subject of the IES come to the fore?

The Supreme Court was responding to a petition filed by a lawyer Samar Vijay Singh, whose counsel pointed out that matters of environment required special expertise. Currently matters of environmental regulation rests on scientists of the Ministry of Environment and Forests as well as bureaucrats from the Indian Administrative Services.

The apex court expressed reluctance at getting into administrative matters of the Government but nevertheless asked the Centre if it expects to go about constituting such a mechanism.

5. The need for shared parenting

What are the custody laws in India? Are the best interests of the child maintained through these laws?

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Two laws determine the custody of children in India. The first is The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act (HMGA) of 1956 and the second is the Guardian and Wards Act of 1890 (GWA).

All custody laws are founded on the “best interests of the child”, which is a concept incorporated from the UNCRC in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. The “best interests of the child” means “to ensure fulfillment of his basic rights and needs, identity, social well-being and physical, emotional and intellectual development”.

The report in 2015, on Reforms in Guardianship and Custody Laws in India, recommended joint custody and shared parenting. In 2016, a draft bill was recommended for protecting the “best interests of the child” titled The Protection of Children (Inter-Country Removal and Attention) Bill.

Anil Malhotra

The story so far: Court justice is justice, according to the law. With access to courts in child custody matters getting tougher with the return on restrictions on court hearings during the pandemic, non-custodial parents and children are again at the receiving end. Seeking custody of a child in the event of a marriage breaking down is a messy affair. While the concept of shared parenting is a reality in countries such as the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, it is not an option in India. Here, antique laws rule the roost. 

What does the law say?

Two laws determine the custody of children in India. The first is The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act (HMGA) of 1956, which states that the natural guardian of a Hindu minor boy or unmarried girl shall be the father and mother, provided that custody of a minor who has not completed five years of age shall ordinarily be with the mother. But the HMGA does not contain any independent, legal or procedural mechanism for deciding custody rights or declaring court-appointed guardians. Therefore, we fall back on the second law, which is colonial in nature. This is the Guardian and Wards Act of 1890 (GWA). This deals with the appointment of a person as a ‘guardian’ to a child, both with respect to the child and property. Child custody, guardianship and visitation issues between parents are determined under the GWA, if a natural parent wants to be declared as an exclusive guardian to his/her own child. Upon disputes between parents in a petition under the GWA, read with the HMGA, guardianship and custody can be vested with one parent with visitation rights to the other parent. In doing so, the welfare of the minor or “best interests of the child” shall be of paramount consideration.

What does “best interests of the child” mean?

India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The definition of “best interests of the child” has been incorporated from the UNCRC in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. The “best interests of the child” means “the basis for any decision taken regarding the child, to ensure fulfillment of his basic rights and needs, identity, social well-being and physical, emotional and intellectual development” and is paramount in any custody battle. In 2019, the Supreme Court of India held in Lahari Sakhamuri v. Sobhan Kodali that the “best interests of the child” is wide in its connotation and “cannot remain the love and care of the primary care, i.e., the mother in case of an infant or the child who is only a few years old.” This is child-centric approach. Again, in 2022, the Supreme Court in Vasudha Sethi v. Kiran V. Bhaskar held that a child’s welfare, not the individual or personal legal right of the parents, is of paramount concern in a custody battle. Welfare of the child must get precedence over the parents’ rights.

Have any recommendations been made for joint parenting?

Recommendations have been made for joint parenting by various committees. The Law Commission of India Report in 2015, on Reforms in Guardianship and Custody Laws in India, recommended joint custody and shared parenting. It disagreed with the idea of singular child custody with one parent. It made exhaustive recommendations for amendments in the HMGA and GWA for joint custody and for guidelines for such custody, child support, and visitation arrangements. Report 263 of the Law Commission of India, titled The Protection of Children (Inter-Country Removal and Attention) Bill, 2016, recommended a draft Bill for protecting the “best interests of the child” relating to custody as per the UNCRC. The report of the Justice Bindal Committee, submitted to the Government in 2018, also said that “best interests of the child” are of paramount importance in matters relating to child custody in view of the UNCRC. A complete draft of The Protection of Children (Inter-Country Removal and Retention) Bill, defining wrongful removal and retention, with a complete mechanism for redress was given in a two-volume report to the Government of India.

What has happened to these recommendations?

Unfortunately, these reports are gathering dust in Government archives, and impasse over the issue has resulted in ugly custody disputes. Against this backdrop, in 2017, in Vivek Singh v. Romani Singh, Justice A.K. Sikri of the Supreme Court highlighted the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome, which refers to the unjustified disdain of a child towards his or her parents. The judgment underlined its “psychological destructive effects”. Sadly, alienated children do not even want to speak to or see the parent whose custody they are not under. The court held that “a child-centric human rights jurisprudence that has been evolved over a period of time is founded on the principle that public good demands proper growth of the child, who are the future of the nation.” Regrettably, a prolonged separation divides and splits families.

What is the way forward?

Despite the idea of joint parenting growing in India, the laws remain unchanged. Courts are bound to the HMGA/GWA and have no other option. As a result, it is children who suffer in silence. During the pandemic, there have been many cases of custodial parents taking advantage of the laws and denying visitation rights to non-custodial parents. This affects the child in unimaginable ways. Family courts offer little aid in such cases. Therefore, general guidelines or practice directions by the Supreme Court are the need of the hour. Shared or joint parenting with equal rights is a viable, practical, balanced solution for the child’s optimal growth. Family courts are equipped under the Family Courts Act of 1984 to devise their own procedure, independent of the technicalities of law. They can formulate out-of-box methods and insist that children be shared by the father and mother. For a child to be caught in a conventional single parent custody trap is archaic and destructive to the child. It ruins the child’s life and also causes misery to the parent, especially to the one who does not have custody.

6. Reining in the power of tech giants

What is the American Innovation and Choice Online Act? How will it break e-market monopoly?

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, introduced in Senate on October 18, 2021, by Senators Amy Klobuchar and Chuck Grassley has been approved on January 20, 2022. The legislation would bar dominant platforms from unfairly preferencing their “own products, services, or lines of business” over those of other businesses that depend on their platforms.

The bill also prohibits dominant digital platforms from using non-public data from other businesses to compete with them on their platforms. Big Tech has been actively opposing the bill while over 30 small and medium tech companies have endorsed it.

The EU has also approved of two proposals —the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA) —meant to take on U.S. tech giants. The negotiations on the new rules are expected to begin this year, with the rules likely to be adopted in 2023.

Ishan Patra

The story so far: On January 20, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary approved a bill that would prohibit Big Tech platforms, such as Amazon.com Inc., Facebook-owner Meta Platforms Inc., Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, from favouring their products and services or ‘self-preferencing’. The committee’s 16-6 majority vote to pass the bill aimed at weakening the dominance of Big Tech, exhibited bipartisan support for the antitrust legislation and moved it closer to the floor of the full Senate for consideration. The bill, however, faces strong resistance from tech firms and their lobbying activities, with still a long road ahead before it becomes a law.

Why did the lawmakers introduce the bill?

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act was introduced in Senate on October 18, 2021, by Senators Amy Klobuchar and Chuck Grassley, and co-sponsored by Senator Richard Durbin, Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, and nine other Senators.

Part of a list of bills aimed at reining in the outsized market power of tech giants, the legislation would bar dominant platforms from unfairly preferencing their “own products, services, or lines of business” over those of other businesses that depend on their platforms. That means, Google would not be able to give preference to Maps or YouTube in its search results, Apple iPhones would not come with its pre-loaded apps like iMessage or FaceTime, and Amazon would no longer be allowed to highlight its Basics brand products and services like Prime.

Then there is also the question of data. Dominant digital platforms would not be allowed to use non-public data from other businesses to compete with them on their platforms. The world’s largest online retailer has been accused of doing this — using third-party sellers’ data to develop some of its products. The idea is to create a more level playing field that would help products from other companies, including small businesses and entrepreneurs to reach more consumers, instead of the ones pushed by the dominant firms, who have been alleged of crowding out other players in their domains.

Lawmakers have stated that the bill would give more choices to the consumers. However, there were counterarguments and concerns about the bill from tech firms, their lobbying groups, as well as lawmakers.

What is the likelihood of the bill becoming a law?

The bill, which now advances out of the Judiciary Committee to the full Senate, needs 60 votes to pass the Senate floor, superseding the legislative filibuster, a political tactic to stop a legislation’s final approval. During this round of approval, the six votes against the bill were all from Republican Senators. But going forward the markup would need significant Republican support as well. The committee’s Ranking Member Senator Grassley, a Republican, said that he’s looking forward to continued collaboration with Senator Klobuchar and others to get this bill passed in the full Senate.

The legislation also received endorsement from firms like Roku, DuckDuckGo, Yelp, Spotify, and Match Group, who sent a letter to the committee urging it to advance legislation, along with over 30 small and medium tech companies.

During the committee’s meeting, some concerns were raised about the bill, including “the broad scope and the vague language” it contains, as well as “privacy and security”, and “global competitiveness”. The Senators also presented over 100 amendments to the bill. An amendment, which was adopted, addressed national security concerns by clarifying that the legislation doesn’t require data to be shared with bad actors, a statement said, adding that “foreign companies, including Chinese Big Tech companies such as TikTok, are subject to the same rules.”

Their counterparts in the U.S., however, don’t want to be bound by the rules and have started massive lobbying operations. Senator Ted Cruz, who voted for the legislation, stated that he had a 40-minute phone call with Apple CEO Tim Cook, who “expressed significant concerns about the bill.” Other Big Tech platforms have also voiced their concerns.

With mixed views about the bill, including some who wish to ensure “robust competition on dominant tech platforms”, with some others supporting the tech firms for political or personal reasons, and taking into account external forces like lobbying, the final passage of the legislation could become an uphill task for the sponsors.

Are other countries doing something similar?

Yes. The European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager has made the 27-country bloc’s stance clear about U.S. tech firms with proposals for two sets of rules —the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA) —meant to take on U.S. tech giants.

The DSA proposal defines clear responsibilities and accountability for providers of intermediary services, and in particular online platforms, such as social media and marketplaces. It would force Amazon, Apple, Google and Meta to remove illegal products, services or content on their platforms or risk fines up to 6% of global turnover.

The DMA proposal blacklists certain practices used by large platforms acting as “gatekeepers” and enables the commission to carry out market investigations and sanction non-compliant behaviours, with fines of up to 10% of global turnover.

While the European Parliament had approved the DMA proposal in December last year, the DSA was approved on January 20. The negotiations on the new rules are expected to begin this year, with the rules likely to be adopted in 2023.

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