India’s tech community, including technology billionaire Nandan Nilekani, who spearheaded Aadhaar, say India quickly needs a “data protection law.”
Mr. Nilekani said the country needed a strategic position on data which represented risks such as colonisation, privacy issues and a “winner-takes-all market,” in which the best players are able to seize a very big portion of the rewards, and the remaining contenders are left with very little. “Data is being vacuumed out of the country and going into unaccountable systems that don't come under Indian law, which probably share data with foreign governments,” he said at an event here organised by Carnegie India, a think tank. “How do you protect people's privacy and how do you make companies accountable.” Mr. Nilekani said that the law also has to make it incumbent on the data collector to immediately notify if there is any data breach.
Due to the rapid adoption of smartphones, digital payments, social media platforms and Aadhaar authentications, Mr. Nilekani said that India is going to become data rich very quickly, but there is a need to strategically think about data in a way that people of the country benefit from it. “We are running out of time, it is happening at a very fast pace.”
The government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appointed a committee of experts led by former Supreme Court judge, Justice B.N. Srikrishna, to identify “key data protection issues” and recommend methods to address them.
Mr. Nilekani proposed a concept called 'data inversion' which puts the creator of the data at the centre where she can have access to her own information and take it back. This would make sure that Indians are able to use their own data to improve their lives such as getting better credit or improve productivity on the farm. Mr. Nilekani said that India is a hugely underserved market for credit. “All credit goes to the big guys, they all go to London (Vijay Mallya). The small guy doesn't get the credit from the financial system as they don't have enough data about these guys,” he said.
Mr. Nilekani was of the view that this is 'inversion of data' is not protectionism but empowering the users as global as well as Indian companies should function in an open competitive market. However the there has to be a strategic framework or law which decides how data can be collected and used. “This has nothing to do with Indian or foreign companies. Let every body flourish,” he said.
Sharad Sharma, co-founder of software product think tank iSPIRT, which works closely with hundred of product firms was of the view that India has an opportunity not to replicate the data protection laws and framework of countries like Europe, China and the US but build a system which is intuitive to the country. This is also because such systems in regions like Europe were built before the advent smart phones and new technologies like artificial intelligence and Internet of Things. “Ultimately we need educated users, people who know what to do with their data. It requires some public education, we have already seen it for people to adopt digital payments,” he said.
Rahul Matthan, a partner at law firm Trilegal, said that data protection around the world is based on the consent given by the user, but there needs an additional level to be imposed in the form of accountability. He said there is a need to have a legal framework which prevents data controllers from using consent as an indemnity for all the actions. “Add a layer of protection for the user in the centre. We don't need consent, we need accountability,” he said.