Amidst the Indian Social Unrest of 2019, a new bill called the ‘Personal Data Protection Bill’ was not noticed by many. The PDP bill 2019 was introduced by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. Essentially, this bill seeks to protect the privacy of individuals and plans on establishing a Data Protection Authority for the same.
According to this bill, data can be processed by the Indian Government, Companies incorporated in India, and Foreign companies dealing with personal data of individuals in India. Moreover, this can only be done with the consent of an individual and solely for clear, lawful purposes.
Characteristics, traits or attributes of identity, which can be used to identify an individual is what pertains to personal data. The bill defines personal data as “financial data, biometric data, caste, religious or political beliefs, or any other category of data specified by the government, in consultation with the Authority and the concerned sectoral regulator.”
The bill gets controversial where it says that the government can exempt any of its agencies from the provisions of the acts in the interest of the security of the state, public order, sovereignty and integrity of India and friendly relations with foreign states and for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence for the above matters. This brings up a fear of misuse of personal data at the hands of the government.
The main question to take away from the negative reaction that the exemption has received comes to “Is individual privacy more important than National Security?”
Many claims that when facial recognition scanning is done during immigration or when someone signs up for an Instagram account, they’re consenting to the use of their private data whereas, in the case of the government, it is not the same.
There is a fear of misuse of private data at the hands of government amongst the people, however, many people can’t put a clear definition to what scares them about the government information about their personal data. It is the fear of the unknown as they are not aware of the ways in which the government can misuse the data.
IF the government chooses to access private information in order to sway people into re-electing them as they are aware of the political beliefs of these individuals. Once that is done, targeted propaganda to sway people into believing that the government’s decisions are sensible will be possible. This leads to a society where people do not make choices based on opinions formed by them. This kind of access into the lives of the citizens of one’s country steals the essence of democracy. Very soon this might lead to a time when there is no individuality within the people of the nation.
However, this entire plausibility relies on a very big ‘IF’. When you dismiss the likelihood of propaganda emerging out of the Government’s ability to influence people due to having access to private data, there is an argument equally strong in support of national security.
Most times the security forces respond to terrorist attacks after the damage has been done, however, with access to personal data and an algorithm which runs the data of billions of people at the same time, only recognizing the those which seem suspicious (For instance, an email ID has sent a thousand mails in a week about RDX) recognizing these people is a precaution and can save a large number of lives. Privacy is the fundamental right of every citizen, however, only with a small exception, which is for the greater good.
The argument that the government is ‘reading your messages’ is rendered invalid because firstly, no one has that kind of time. Secondly, the algorithm the data goes through accesses the information to find targets in order to take preventive measures over trying to clean up messes made by terror groups. There is strong fear among people in areas where there is heavy violence, imagine how much of it could reduce if people were caught beforehand.
Both arguments bring out valid points and are ridden with complexities.
Is it only those who are doing something wrong who have something to fear? Can a Gray area emerge?
Is it alright to occasionally sacrifice your individual privacy for the sake of national interest or is the big ‘if’ of misuse too scary to allow this?
Let the controversy begin.