Kerala

Anonymise COVID-19 data before handover, HC tells govt.

Sprinklr told not to breach confidentiality, to return data once contract expires

A Division Bench of the High Court on Friday directed the State government to anonymise the data on COVID-19 patients and those in home quarantine and to allow Sprinklr, the U.S.-based data analytics firm with which the government has entered into a contract, to access the data only after these are anonymised.

The Bench of Justice Devan Ramachandran and Justice T.R. Ravi restrained Sprinklr from committing any act that will breach the confidentiality of the data. The court directed the government to obtain the consent of the citizens before collecting the data. The company was asked not to hand over the data to a third party and to return them as soon as the contractual obligations were over.

The court passed the directives while admitting a batch of public interest litigations filed by Balu Gopalakrishnan of Thiruvananthapuram, Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, and BJP State president K. Surendran, among others, challenging the agreement.

The court directed Sprinklr to immediately transfer the residual or secondary data back to the government. Sprinkler has been restrained from advertising the project and using the name and emblem of the government.

Govt. argument

N.S. Nappinai, a Mumbai-based cyber lawyer appearing for the government, submitted that the privacy policy of the company and the international data protection norms ensured a high level of confidentiality of data. The agreement prevented Sprinklr from using the data for other purposes. The data were stored in an encrypted form in Amazon Cloud in Mumbai. Besides, the period of the agreement was for six months, beyond which the company could not retain the data. As the data were in India, criminal prosecution could be initiated under the provisions of the Information Technology Act, 2000 for breach of confidentiality.

On NIC services

Additional Advocate General K.K. Raveendranath submitted that none of the government institutions were capable of doing big data analysis within a short time. The State government would take a call on utilising the services of the National Informatics Centre (NIC) for data analysis.

Assistant Solicitor General of India P. Vijayakumar submitted that sensitive personal data should not be shared with a third party service provider. The State should have anonymised the data before sharing it. In fact, the NIC could process big data if the State had made the demand. The agreement did not safeguard the privacy rights of COVID-19 patients.

The court adjourned the hearing on the petition by three weeks.

CM’s reaction

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the court had handed the government a moral victory. Its rejection of the plea for cancelling the agreement was a forceful rebuttal of all falsehoods. The government would continue to engage Sprinklr and use its insight into COVID-19 occurrence and spread to inform the State’s containment strategy. The charges had not gained any traction with the public. The Opposition had attempted to distort the queries raised by the HC as observations against the government.

‘Vindicated’

However, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party claimed the HC had vindicated their allegations of nepotism and corruption. The court had handed down a harsh judgment and set norms to protect the personal medical records of citizens from being stolen by Sprinklr.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Mullappally Ramachandran said Mr .Vijayan’s defence of the fraudulent deal had fallen like a palace of playing cards under judicial scrutiny.

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Printable version | Jul 13, 2020 3:23:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/anonymise-covid-19-data-before-handover-hc-tells-govt/article31427909.ece

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