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Paul Merrell

India begins to embrace digital privacy. - 0 views

  • India is the world’s largest democracy and is home to 13.5 percent of the world’s internet users. So the Indian Supreme Court’s August ruling that privacy is a fundamental, constitutional right for all of the country’s 1.32 billion citizens was momentous. But now, close to three months later, it’s still unclear exactly how the decision will be implemented. Will it change everything for internet users? Or will the status quo remain? The most immediate consequence of the ruling is that tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Alibaba will be required to rein in their collection, utilization, and sharing of Indian user data. But the changes could go well beyond technology. If implemented properly, the decision could affect national politics, business, free speech, and society. It could encourage the country to continue to make large strides toward increased corporate and governmental transparency, stronger consumer confidence, and the establishment and growth of the Indian “individual” as opposed to the Indian collective identity. But that’s a pretty big if. Advertisement The privacy debate in India was in many ways sparked by a controversy that has shaken up the landscape of national politics for several months. It began in 2016 as a debate around a social security program that requires participating citizens to obtain biometric, or Aadhaar, cards. Each card has a unique 12-digit number and records an individual’s fingerprints and irises in order to confirm his or her identity. The program was devised to increase the ease with which citizens could receive social benefits and avoid instances of fraud. Over time, Aadhaar cards have become mandatory for integral tasks such as opening bank accounts, buying and selling property, and filing tax returns, much to the chagrin of citizens who are uncomfortable about handing over their personal data. Before the ruling, India had weak privacy protections in place, enabling unchecked data collection on citizens by private companies and the government. Over the past year, a number of large-scale data leaks and breaches that have impacted major Indian corporations, as well as the Aadhaar program itself, have prompted users to start asking questions about the security and uses of their personal data.
  • n order to bolster the ruling the government will also be introducing a set of data protection laws that are to be developed by a committee led by retired Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna. The committee will study the data protection landscape, develop a draft Data Protection Bill, and identify how, and whether, the Aadhaar Act should be amended based on the privacy ruling.
  • Should the data protection laws be implemented in an enforceable manner, the ruling will significantly impact the business landscape in India. Since the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2014, the government has made fostering and expanding the technology and startup sector a top priority. The startup scene has grown, giving rise to several promising e-commerce companies, but in 2014, only 12 percent of India’s internet users were online consumers. If the new data protection laws are truly impactful, companies will have to accept responsibility for collecting, utilizing, and protecting user data safely and fairly. Users would also have a stronger form of redress when their newly recognized rights are violated, which could transform how they engage with technology. This has the potential to not only increase consumer confidence but revitalize the Indian business sector, as it makes it more amenable and friendly to outside investors, users, and collaborators.
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