Cyber Security – CERTs, Policy, etc

[op-ed of the day] Data and its discontents


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Paper 3-Cyber security


The Personal Data Protection Bill which was introduced in Lok Sabha contains a certain provision that might have implications for India’s digital economy. These provisions must be carefully considered as Parliament reviews the proposed legislation.

What are the stated objectives of the bill?

  • The first purpose deals with privacy concerns.
  • Its purpose is to safeguard the constitutional guarantee of privacy for Indian citizens
  • The second purpose is to provide a just and equitable vision for the future of India’s digital economy

What are the incongruent provisions?

  • One of the provision enables the central government to direct the regulated entity under the act to provide anonymised personal data.
  • The government wants to use this anonymised personal data to enable the targeted delivery of services or evidence-based policymaking
  • The above provisions could have certain implications that need to be carefully considered.

Anonymised data and issues with it

  • Under the bill, anonymised data refers to data from which all the markers of identity have been irreversibly removed.
  • Recent research shows that the present methods of anonymisation are imperfect.
  • With the use of modern machine learning techniques, the data released as “anonymous” can be re-identified.
  • So, the approach to regulation of anonymised data must be contextual and sectoral- with a focus on finance and healthcare.

Use of big data and AI in governance

  • The government also plans to use big data and artificial intelligence within governance and planning systems.
  • The use of these techniques has the potential to increase government capacity and transparency.
  • It can also help in making an informed decision about economic and social planning.
  • However, the provision ignores the multiplicity of existing and inchoate rights like IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights), copyrights and trade secret protections.

Consequences of the conflicting provision

  • While the government wants the data to be open for acquisition similar to the power of “eminent domain” over land, but it comes in conflict with existing laws.
  • It comes in conflict with the copyright acts, intellectual property rights, and trade secret laws.
  • Databases are commercially significant for commercial companies.
  • Overlap of these existing rights within the government system can jeopardise accountability and transparency.

 Problems with Big data and AI in governance

  • Unregulated use of the database in governance could have consequences for the people and communities who are being made visible or being invisible by this data.
  • A shift from a qualitative method like census to the quantitative method like big data which is collected in a different context and used for a different purpose may not be smooth.
  • Such data will be incomplete for governance.
  • The data could also be replete with biases of the private entity collecting the data.
  • So, the use of this unregulated data for policymaking or targeting beneficiaries could be disastrous.

Way forward

The regulation of non-personal data must take into account both the potential harms to individual privacy as well as the wider social and political consequences of the use of data for governance.



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