Right To Privacy

[op-ed snap] Move fast and fix things: on safeguarding users’ privacyop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies & interventions for development in various sectors & issues arising out of their design & implementation

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Safegurading citizens data and right to privacy in India


Right to privacy under strain

  1. Movement on a privacy law has become gridlocked in recent months
  2. A draft law to safeguard it is beset with controversy in a closed drafting process without much transparency
  3. It has no clear path to enactment and is not listed for the ongoing winter session of Parliament
  4. On the other hand, the government has prioritised more data collection and privacy-impairing legislation
  5. These include the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, which is listed for discussion and voting
  6. Another instance is the political firestorm after Ministry of Home Affairs issued a notification authorising digital surveillance by 10 Central government agencies

Involvement of Facebook

  1. Facebook’s motto was to “move fast and break things”
  2. By now we have all heard various variations of it to mock the social networking platform which is identified globally for privacy breaches and misinformation campaigns — even interfering in the election processes of major democracies
  3. The latest in this torrent of disclosures is the investigation by The New York Times documenting a range of private deals struck by Facebook for reciprocal sharing of user data with the knowledge of top management
  4. Some deals permitted access even to private chats

Similar ploy in India

  1. Even prior to the disclosures by Cambridge Analytica, Indian civil society activists had fought against Facebook very publicly on net neutrality
  2. The company had proposed to offer users without Internet on their phones a platform called “Free Basics”, with a bouquet of essential websites
  3. In December 2015 it argued that by facilitating access to websites beyond Facebook, its intent was purely altruistic
  4. This deal was opposed on grounds of net neutrality by those who recognised that Facebook would become a gatekeeper to the Internet
  5. The opposition to “Free Basics” won, with a ban on it being imposed by the telecom regulator
  6. Facebook was not clearly stating how it would use the personal data of users on the Free Basics platform

Shaping political preferences

  1. By March 2018 the Cambridge Analytica exposé gathered steam
  2. Blockbuster reports by The New York Times and The Observer documented the compromising of personal data of Facebook users to micro-target them with subtle forms of political campaigning without their knowledge
  3. This was reportedly aimed at influencing their voting preferences and the outcome of elections

Investigation pending

  1. Concurrently the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT in April 2018 also started examining this issue
  2. While it did invite public comments, its proceedings have not been disclosed
  3. Subsequently, the matter at the ministerial level was referred to the Central Bureau of Investigation, which launched a preliminary investigation in September 2018
  4. Till date, there is little public information on movement in this investigation

Way forward

  1. Many of these problems go much beyond Facebook, to the entire wave of digitisation from the big building blocks down to a fine grain of Indian society
  2. To properly harness digitisation, we now have the challenge of developing and prioritising institutions of governance to protect users
  3. This must start immediately with a strong, rights-protecting, comprehensive privacy law
  4. At present, despite having the second highest number of Internet users in the world, India has little to show as a country in investigatory outcomes, measured regulatory responses or parliamentary processes which safeguard users

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