Data Protection – A Burning Need in India

Technology is more influential than ever before, and the world is now literally a click or a tap away. With this, everything has become easier- connecting with people and businesses, creating awareness, facilitating trade, and what not. The major players in this industry include social media giants, like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Reddit. Facebook is said to have had 2.20 billion monthly active users in the first quarter. This statistic in isolation provides a positive picture about digitalisation, increased access to the world wide web, and an interconnected worldwide community. However, recent events have taken a rather sharp turn from this course.

First for a few lesser known facts. Data analysis firms all over the world use platforms like Facebook and Instagram to scan user data and analyse it for various purposes. These platforms themselves also use the information provided to them by users to design user interfaces, personalise advertisements and news feeds. This essentially means that Facebook uses your likes, your public profile, your posts and photos to tinker with and customise what advertisements you see, where you see them, what kind of advertisements you see and how frequently you see them. Have you ever google-searched an item, say shoes and sandals, and found a sudden rise in the number of advertisements you see from suppliers of these products on your Facebook feed? Well, you aren’t the first one.
How and why the two are connected is still a mystery, though the simple explanation would be web surveillance. In the recent audience that Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg had with the United States Congress, he admitted that the Facebook ‘like’ button on various websites automatically meant that Facebook knows when one of its users are on that website, and this goes to add on to their database. While this has been a concern for many for a long time, recent events post the United States presidential election brought some new concerns into light, and people around the world are afraid Cambridge Analytica wasn’t the case where this happened.

The scandal began with Cambridge Analytica and related company Strategic Communications Laboratories being accused to have pilfered the data of over 50 million Facebook users at the time when they were working on Trump’s 2016 campaign. The conclusion drawn, in the end, was that the pilfered data was used to influence the elections. This background in context, many other countries around the world, in addition to the European Union, decided to put Facebook and its privacy issues under the microscope. Whether these allegations were true or not, the privacy concern remains. In the following audience with Congress, Zuckerberg assured that only the information consented to by the user is collected and provided to others outside Facebook. Subsequently, the United States decided to create and impose certain legislations for the purpose of data protection. Where does India stand in the issue?
As of now, India has no express legislations for the protection of data, but there is a burning need for one. With only a few acts, such as the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 is the most comprehensive cyber legislation that India has. The (Indian) Information Technology Act, 2000 deals with the issues relating to payment of compensation (Civil) and punishment (Criminal) in case of wrongful disclosure and misuse of personal data and violation of contractual terms in respect of personal data. However, if India faced a probability of a scandal such as the one mentioned before, there is very little legal framework to tackle the same.

With universal access, therefore, comes a need for regulation as well. While the fundamental right to privacy read in the Constitution in the recent judgment of Puttaswamy v. Union of India (Right to Privacy case) and the need for data protection are two sides of a coin, one may enforce the other. Though fundamental right may not be enforced in the case of data violation by private giants, the existence of this right may act as a motive to create comprehensive data protection legislations in the country. Europe’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is seen as one of the most effectively drafted documents on the subject and may be a starting point to draw from. Data protection lies at the heart of maintaining privacy, transparency and non-interference, and India has a long way to go.

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