The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, MEITY for short has drafted a Personal Data Protection Bill which is likely to be tabled in the parliament this June. We have some concerns over the drafting of the bill, which you can read here, but more importantly we are worried about the principles that form the basis of the bill.
We believe that the rights of an individual are equally important as the rights of corporates, government bodies, startups etc. But when it comes to privacy rights and data protection we strongly feel that an individual must be at the centre. Simply put, we believe that an individual’s right to privacy comes before a business’s wish to innovate, expand and contribute to the economy [digital economy?]. It may seem like common sense to some people, but to others, it may be shocking. After all, what happened to principles of equality?
Well, firstly a person’s right to privacy is a fundamental right and as observed by the Supreme Court bench which passed the privacy order, it is intrinsic to a person’s Right to Life. So naturally, we should value this over corporate desire of growth and profit. Moreover, B.R. Ambedkar, while drafting the Constitution observed that an individual is an end in himself. This idea resonates throughout our Constitution and therefore must reflect in any new laws that are passed, especially ones that affect the people directly.
It must also be kept in mind that an individual does not have the resources that corporations have at his disposal to protect himself. While it is true that the state machinery exists to serve the individual but even a well functioning system would be of no use if a law directly states that fundamental rights are to be given less importance over the digital economy.
Consider the current situation where large businesses constantly breach user privacy for self interest. By businesses, we are mainly referring to digital platforms that provide services such as social networking, shopping, food or ride sharing. They claim that without this data of their users (personal data which is taken with a fabricated consent), their innovation will be restricted and this will hamper the digital economy. For them, regulation acts as an unnecessary hindrance for growth and exploration.
Meity has referred to this problem extensively in the draft bill. It has laid out the main problem as a tradeoff between innovation and data protection. But this is not the correct way to address a problem. Regardless of what classical economists keep telling you, not everything in life is a tradeoff. It is not necessary that innovation and subsequently, the digital economy’s growth will be hampered if we protect user privacy. In fact experts and lawmakers must create a framework where the two coexist, and not just coexist but also supplement each other.
If we talk about data protection, the most common thing we have heard everywhere is that ‘data is the new oil’. But we strongly disagree. Data cannot be the new oil and it should not be treated as such. An important step towards understanding the logic that dismisses this argument of data being the new is to contextualise our understanding of data. When we use the word data, it brings to mind a very vague association of numbers and databases. But the data that we are talking about is personal data. Likes and dislikes of people, their behaviour on the internet, their shopping decisions, their politics and even their intimate details. When this personal data is seen as a resource, ready to be exploited for corporate benefit, we reduce an individual’s identity to a resource. This should not be an acceptable practice while securing the constitutional rights of people.
People should not be seen as resources and their rights must not be secured based on how useful they prove to be but because of the fact that they are people. This is why it becomes so important to advocate for rights of individuals. Although these rights are being secured in the Constitution, we must make sure that they are upheld in every subsequent law, otherwise the principles upon which the Constitution is built will no longer hold value.
Tanvi Vipra is an intern at IFF and a volunteer at SaveOurPrivacy.in