For a law to protect privacy and data–Economic Times–15.09.2017

At Wednesday’s conclave on financial inclusion organised by the UN, finance minister Arun Jaitley was confident that the Aadhaar law would stand the test of confidentiality.

At the same event, Niti Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar felt that the law would need to be strengthened, in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling privacy to be a fundamental right under the Constitution. Privacy and data protection are issues that go beyond Aadhaar.

Regardless of whether the Aadhaar law takes care of privacy in relation to the biometrics gathered by the Unique Identification Authority of India, India needs a separate law on privacy and data protection, ideally on the lines of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, adopted in 2016 and slated to come into force in May 2018. Recently, the Chinese law enforcement agencies nabbed 25 wanted criminals using facial recognition software applied to security camera images from a beer festival.

A Chinese airline has started using similar software in place of boarding passes. In India itself, a number of private enterprises ask employees to mark attendance by putting their thumbs to a fingerprint scanning machine. Phones now unlock themselves reading the user’s fingerprints or facial features. When people download and instal apps on their smartphones, they accept all sorts of conditions, including many that invade privacy. Social media open up a great deal of private data. The use of GPS to navigate leaves a trail of your movements. All this data is out there, without a law securing their integrity and protecting the data subject against harm. This must be remedied, without losing time. We have to go beyond Aadhaar.

There must be specific protection for the individual against unjustified, and not merely unauthorised, snooping by government agencies. Any breach of privacy must be authorised by a court order and the agency responsible must be held to account by a committee of Parliament, and not merely the executive. We need a law to create data protection and a regulator who would be accountable for the job.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.
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