Our lives have become an open book, literally!

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This gentleman, who had come to my home to sell an insurance policy the other day, was meeting me for the first time. Thanks to the Internet, particularly social networking websites, he already had all my details. From my birthplace to my present job along with designation; from my date of birth to all the educational institutions I had attended and offices I had worked for in my life, he knew almost everything. Some of which even my closest friends or relatives may not be aware of.

For a moment I was glad that the guy had done his homework properly before visiting his client. But at the second thought, I realised how vulnerable we have become in this cyber age. The right to privacy has been severely compromised. Even our minor life details are out in the open and are being turned into data to achieve social, political and commercial goals by various entities across the world.

With 500 million people using internet across India, there is a data glut. Every digital footprint offers diverse kind of data when put in different permutations and combinations. If they fall into wrong hands, they may be more damaging than the misuse of nuclear weapons. Utilising these statistics as a tool for surveillance, monitoring, demonising and alienating an individual, community or society is just one minor example of its misapplication.

The country needs a strong data protection and localisation laws to curb data abuse. A set of rules regarding mining, owning, sharing, and processing of data is need of the hour. It will help regulate this incredible resource, putting it to better use while protecting the privacy of citizens.

The good news is that the concerned authorities are studying how it can customise data protection principles followed world over to suit India’s requirements. The government, according to NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, will soon introduce a bill in the Parliament on data protection. The earlier it is done, the better and safer for the common people of the country.

The proposed data protection framework in India — work on which had begun after the apex court had ruled that privacy is the fundamental right and asked the government to draft rules for it — suggests, for example, a penalty based on per day violation and linking the upper limit to global revenue of the entity controlling data but has not specified any amount or percentage.

Such laws may help tame big private companies and institutions such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, Ola, etc from misusing the details of individuals to keep an edge over their competitors. But there should also be clauses that could hinder political parties from manipulating the data to create social rift to gain or remain in power. To begin with, an explicit consent of an individual should at least be made must for processing sensitive personal information like religious or political beliefs, sexual orientation and biometric details.

Few decades ago, we used to pity the helplessness of people living on footpaths and in slums as their privacy was heavily compromised. Now the life of almost each one of us has become an open book, which is up for sale for a price. Gentleman, any insurance policy to ensure privacy?

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