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Draft Report on Regulating Non-Personal Data

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July 18, 2020

Why in news?

The draft report by the Committee of Experts on Non-Personal Data Governance Framework was released recently, inviting feedbacks.

What is the committee on?

  • The committee was set up in 2019.
  • It is a nine-member panel, headed by former Infosys vice-chairman Kris Gopalakrishnan.
  • It was tasked to study the issues on non-personal data.
  • The draft report makes suggestions for consideration of regulation of such data.
  • It has defined non-personal data, concept of community data and rights and privileges over such data.
  • It has delved into crucial subjects such as ownership of data, undertaking a data business and data sharing.
  • It has also recommended mechanisms for data sharing while defining its purpose.
  • These include sovereign rights, core public interest, and economic purposes.

What are the key highlights of the report?

  • Non-personal data refers to information that is not related to an identified or identifiable natural person.
  • This would include data on weather conditions, from sensors installed on industrial machines, from public infrastructure, and so on.
  • It also includes data which was initially personal, but were later made anonymous, according to the draft definition.
  • It is to be noted that the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill 2019 is still in process.
  • The Gopalakrishnan-led panel in its report has defined non-personal data as information which is not personal as defined in the above bill.
  • Potential of data - The report has collated information from various studies in this regard.
  • It has shown that companies with the largest data pools have "outsized, unbeatable techno-economic advantages".
  • A few startups from the 1990s and 2000s have gone on to become USD 1 trillion market capitalisation multinational corporations.
  • This is mainly because of their ability to collect and analyse data of users.
  • Reportedly, Google and Facebook together control about 60% of the Internet advertising market in the USA.
  • Amazon had a 37% share of the online e-commerce market in the USA in 2019.

What has the committee called for?

  • There is a need to create a data-sharing framework.
  • It thus calls for sharing non-personal data collected by both government and private organizations with citizens.
  • This is to ensure that community data is available for social, public and economic value creation.
  • Also, it simultaneously addresses privacy concerns and prevents collective harms arising from processing of non-personal data.
  • This is likely to lead to increased transparency, better quality services, improved efficiencies, and more innovation.
  • The shared Non-Personal Data may be useful for Indian entrepreneurs.
  • It would help them develop new and innovative services and products from which citizens may benefit.
  • The report puts forward useful suggestions on the need to set up a ‘non-personal data regulatory authority.’
  • This is to manage India’s vast and emerging data space, while nurturing a creative and egalitarian technology architecture.

What are the concerns?

  • Definition - A major concern with the new report is the lack of clarity on how it defines non-personal data.
  • For instance, the report mentions on data that are aggregated and to which “certain data transformation techniques” are applied.
  • The 'transformation' is to the extent that the individual or specific events related to them are no longer identifiable.
  • This would be qualified as anonymous data, according to the report.
  • But the data transformation techniques (that can be used to “anonymise” personal data) are not clearly defined.
  • Possibly, vested interests can exploit the situation.
  • Powers - The panel’s suggestions would lead to offering the State immense powers to define and determine non-personal data and use that for its interests.
  • This does not augur well for a democracy, besides hurting business interests.
  • This could possibly lead to a new form of digital control raj.
  • Authority - Another potentially controversial idea is the suggestion to create a Non-Personal Data Authority.
  • The panel suggests that data can be classified into three categories — public, community and private non-personal data.
  • This is based on their ownership and origin of creation.
  • Again, there is little clarity on who owns what kind of data as reflected in the way the report defines and identifies stakeholders.
  • [The stakeholders include data principal, data custodian, data trustee and data trust.]
  • The roles of these parties are still not delineated.
  • These issues need to be addressed to avoid unethical practices, especially in a country like India which is witnessing a data economy explosion.
  • Bringing transparency into the data debate is the need of the hour.


Source: The Economic Times, Business Line

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