User Data: The Growth Driver of 21st Century

Till the end of the 19th century, coal was the major source of fuel for railways and industries. Because of a steady demand, there were several coal mines across the world, which were used to mine this energy source. However towards the beginning of the 20th century, the world recognised the potential of crude oil and there was a sudden rush for excavating the petroleum resources—the world had experienced a tremendous shift in the energy sector. This also meant that it now had to identify new regions and locations from where they could extract petroleum. This search started in United States, where ultimately several petroleum fields were established. Later, it was found that a majority of world’s petroleum resources lie beneath the Middle East and so, it drew the focus of the world. Slowly, this region became the heaven that fulfilled the world’s hunger for energy.

We are now in 21st century, and are experiencing a similar emergence of a new resource as the days pass: data. The 21st century and the coming centuries will be ruled by the one who possess enormous amounts of data. In the manner in which petroleum made the Middle Eastern countries rich, the countries with huge allocation of data and countries which can efficiently manage it in the future will become the economic superpowers of the coming centuries. We live in a in a knowledge-driven economy where data is the most valuable. In fact, this is a priceless commodity with no alternative. Keeping this in mind, governments are recognising the value of big data and the need to preserve it from the potential attack by hackers and the dark web. It was along these lines, that the policy of NITI Ayog started emphasising on the need for Artificial Intelligence and the preservation of data generated within the country.

India is slowly emphasizing upon the importance of data security and its by-product of artificial intelligence. In the most recent budget, the honourable Finance Minister emphasised on the need of focusing on AI and automation to facilitate economic transactions as well as many other activities of the economy with the help of big data. For that matter, the BN Srikrishna committee drafted a bill on data protection which proposed that highly sensitive data generated by individuals must be stored within India. Recently, NITI Ayog also organised a lecture series on AI and how it can be collaborated with big data for the benefit of the nation. India is adopting a protectionist approach: the RBI too, sent notifications to all payment services to store the data generated by Indian users within the territory of India by October 15th, 2018. While no fines and penalties have been declared for violation of the same, it is a move aimed at encouraging companies to create local data storage facilities.

This is being stressed upon by all branches of the government as it will become easier for the law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations and inspections if data is locally stored, saving hours of precious time. Moreover, the government also wants better control over data. The recent mob lynching across the country that allegedly occurred due to the fake news spread through WhatsApp, seems to have made the government realise that data and information shared carelessly on internet can create social disharmony. The government also recognises the fact that there is a growing threat from other nations like China and Russia who can wage cyber warfare to steal sensitive information from other countries. This provides a strong motivation to the government to domestically store the sensitive user data within the territory of our country.

When the internet was invented in the late 1980’s, most of the resource was held within US because of which it holds a large scale of control over internet even today. Even though the internet has now largely been decentralized, the United States does have substantial control over the way it is evolving and its future. Thus, India needs to play a proactive role in protecting its citizens’ data as well as make use of the benefits of AI, if it does not want to be left in the backseat by other nations. Moreover, governance and administration can be made more effective in the coming years if the government is willing to make use of the fruits of AI and big data. It is high time for the nation to have a policy or law to regulate the use of data as well as to protect the privacy of our citizens and their sensitive information by keeping it safe from the cyber warfare lead by other countries.

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