Budget 2023 | Government to unveil National Data Governance Policy

The idea, which has been floated since 2020, may lead to misgivings from large tech companies, depending on the extent of commercial data they may have to share.

Updated - February 02, 2023 01:52 am IST

Published - February 01, 2023 12:21 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presents the Union Budget 2023-24 in the Lok Sabha, in New Delhi on February 1, 2023.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presents the Union Budget 2023-24 in the Lok Sabha, in New Delhi on February 1, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

“To unleash innovation and research by start-ups and academia, a National Data Governance Policy will be brought out,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said while presenting the Union Budget 2023–24 on February 1.

“This will enable access to anonymised data,” she added.

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The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) released a draft of this policy in May 2022 for public consultation. The nine-page document sought to set up the India Data Management Office (IDMO) under the Digital India Corporation, and lay out some guidelines for sharing of non-personal data by private entities. The non-personal data sharing concept is distinct from the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022, which was drafted with individual privacy online in consideration. 

Under a more detailed December 2020 draft framework, an expert committee report submitted to MeitY that a company may be classified as a “data business,” based on certain parameters like the type and volume of data they collect, after which anonymised data from these firms can be obtained by a community, defined as “any group of people that are bound by common interests and purposes.” An example of non-personal data sharing is general traffic data in a city from ridesharing apps.

That year, the US–India Business Council (USIBC) reportedly voiced concerns from tech giants like Amazon and Google, who were opposed to data sharing at the scale MeitY’s committee of experts had envisioned it. 

In a 2021 report funded by Google, Aapti Institute, a technology policy think tank, said that the mandatory data sharing outlined in the 2020 report was “premature” in a “nascent” Indian data economy. “The state must serve to bring stakeholders together, adopting a consultative and iterative approach to data governance in order to harness the immense and latent potential of non-personal data,” the report said.

The May 2022 draft does not provide for mandatory data sharing, and instead provides high-level principles on the basis of which the non-personal data sharing regime would later be put in place.

‘Time to go forward’

In a press conference on Wednesday, Union Minister for Railways, Communications and Electronics & Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw said the government wanted to wait for a Personal Data Protection law to be in place before implementing the Non-personal Data policy. “That is why, now that the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill is already there, it has received very good feedback. The industry and all stakeholders have accepted it,” Mr. Vaishnaw said. “So with these two complementary constructs in place, it’s time to go forward.”

Mr. Vaishnaw also said that the policy would only cover datasets that the government has, a likely relief to big tech companies that have expressed anxiety over mandatory data sharing with potential competitors. “I would like to very categorically say that the National Data Governance framework policy relates to non-personal data available with the government, and these are non-personal data which is, for example— weather data [and] climate data,” Mr. Vaishnaw said.

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