Updated: May 28, 2022 12:14:09 pm
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has floated a fresh draft policy which proposes that private companies be “encouraged” to share non-personal data with startups and Indian researchers through a proposed initiative called the India Datasets programme. This will also include non-personal data of Indian citizens collected by the Central government.
The new draft, called ‘National Data Governance Framework Policy’, is a replacement of the now scrapped data accessibility policy, a draft of which was floated by the MeitY in February. The old draft policy was axed as it faced severe criticism over its proposal to monetise government data.
Experts indicated the fresh draft could also face a pushback, given that private companies are unlikely to be keen on voluntarily sharing non-personal data as there could be trade and intellectual property issues.
The most significant change in the new draft is the omission of perhaps the most contentious provision in the old draft — selling data collected at the Central level in the open market. The old draft — ‘India Data Accessibility and Use Policy’ — floated in February, had proposed that data collected by the Centre that has “undergone value addition” can be sold in the open market for an “appropriate price”. It faced widespread criticism with questions being raised about the government collecting data to monetise it in the absence of a data protection law in India.
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Instead, the new draft places significant focus on sharing non-personal data. To do so, it calls for the creation of an India Datasets programme, which will consist of non-personal and anonymised datasets from Central government entities that have collected data from Indian citizens or those in India. Private companies, it says, will be “encouraged” to share such data. The non-personal data housed within this programme would be accessible to startups and Indian researchers, the draft proposal said.
In its most basic form, non-personal data is any set of data which does not contain personally identifiable information. This in essence means that no individual or living person can be identified by looking at such data. The push to harness non-personal data was first proposed by a government committee headed by Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan, which was set up to unlock the economic value of such data and also address concerns arising out of it.
Among the stated objectives of the policy are to modernise the government’s data collection, with an aim to improve governance and to enable an artificial intelligence (AI) and data-led research and startup ecosystem in the country. Once finalised, the policy will be applicable to all Central government departments along with all non-personal datasets and related standards and rules governing its access by startups and researchers. State governments will be “encouraged” to adopt the provisions of the policy, according to the draft.
The draft also calls for creation of an India Data Management Office (IDMO), which will be incharge of designing and managing the India Datasets platform that will process requests and provide access to the non-personal datasets to Indian researchers and startups. The IDMO will “prescribe rules and standards, including anonymisation standards for all entities (government and private) that deal with data that will cause every government ministry/department/organisation to identify and classify available datasets and build a vibrant, diverse and large base of datasets for research and innovation,” according to the draft. For purposes of safety and trust, any non-personal data sharing by any entity can be only via platforms designated and authorised by IDMO, it added.
In what appears to be a potential preventive measure against the new draft running into privacy-related issues, the MeitY has stated that the IDMO will set and publish data anonymisation standards and rules to “ensure informational privacy is maintained”.
Industry experts, meanwhile, pointed out that several contours — such as the composition of the IDMO and the process through which data housed in the India Datasets programme can be accessed by startups and researchers — have not been made clear in the new draft policy.
Experts also said that private companies may not voluntarily share non-personal data. “There may be trade and intellectual property issues, so it is possible that private companies will not share at least non-personal datasets that are critical to their business,” a senior industry professional said.
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