In a debate with far-reaching repercussions on who can create value from and monetise the data of Indian citizens, a committee formed under the IT Ministry has called for data regulation that would require sharing of data that is anonymised, or “non-personal”, to help Indian companies and governments. The committee, formed last September, is chaired by Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan and includes industry, government and academic experts.
“Allowing the possibility of data monopolies, in a large consumer market such as India, could lead to the creation of imbalances in bargaining power vis-à-vis few companies with access to large data sets accumulated in a largely unregulated environment, on one side, and Indian citizens, Indian businesses including startups, MSMEs and even the Government, on the other. Therefore, the Government’s role is to catalyse the data businesses in a manner that maximises overall welfare,” said the ‘Report by the Committee of Experts on Non-Personal Data Governance Framework’ released Sunday night.
The report suggests a data-sharing regulation to shift data’s “economic benefits for citizens and communities in India” as well as help the government in policy making and service delivery. With a large impact on global technology companies, the report’s proposed regulation would require companies to share their private data, excluding “proprietary data”, at no remuneration. Citizens, startups, researchers, and the government can request data for purposes of national security, legal, public interest (such as service delivery), and economic purposes to create a level playing field.
Non-personal data refers to a set of anonymised data that can be used to glean patterns. The report focuses on three types of non-personal data: 1) “public non-personal data”, owned by governments 2) “private non-personal data”, owned by non-government players and derived from assets or processes privately-owned, and 3) “community data” which is the raw data of a group of people that may also be collected by private players.
A broader version of this proposal had made its way into the IT Ministry’s Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill, currently sitting with Parliament.
The report also proposes a new business category called “Data Businesses” that exists horizontally across sectors.
The report also looks at “community data” and argues that legal and ownership rights over this type of data should be given to a trustee of the community, most often a community body or government agency. This trustee can collaborate with a new data regulator called the Non-Personal Data Authority (separate from a Data Protection Authority called for by the pending Data Bill) to seek and enforce data sharing. “This should, however, be undertaken in a strict rules-based manner, with adequate checks against abuse of power by government or other representative agencies, which requires an elaborate institutional structure for this purpose,” the report states.
“The concept of trustees assumes that different types of bodies have the technical capacity to understand how data can be used. How do we know that data trustees don’t have vested interests? There are no checks and balances. There is also this assumption that giving a lot of data to a startup will turn it into a unicorn,” said an industry representative from a major global technology company.
In relation to Indian companies, the report finds that the “first-mover advantage” afforded to Big Tech companies leaves out new entrants. The report argues that market forces alone will not provide “maximum social and economic benefits from data for the society,” a subtle allusion to the American ecosystem of a highly-capitalistic data economy. In outlining that businesses create “value of their data” to have “unbeatable techno-economic advantages”, it frames data as an economic good, not just “informational”.
“The committee strongly believes that meta-data sharing by Data Business will spur innovation at an unprecedented scale in the country. One of the associated key objectives is to promote and encourage the development of domestic industry and startups that can scale their data-based businesses.”
The committee members include NASSCOM President Debjani Ghosh, National Informatics Director General Neeta Verma, Joint Secretary of Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), Indihood Member Lalitesh Katragadda, IIT Delhi professor Ponnurangam Kumaraguru, and IT for Change’s Parminder Jeet Singh. The public can send their comments on the recommendations till August 13.
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