India among the worst countries for privacy protection

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October 17, 2019

/ By / Kolkata

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India amongst the bottom three non-EU countries in term of digital privacy

India amongst the bottom three non-EU countries in term of digital privacy

According to a study by the Britain-based firm Comparitech, India is the third worst non-EU country in terms of digital privacy protection and state of surveillance.

Recently, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) under the government of India released a tender asking for bidders to help them create Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) with the objective of leveraging the power of facial recognition technology to increase the efficiency of the security forces. The proposed system will make an extensive database of photos belonging to Indian citizens which will be used in training the machine learning models. While using facial recognition technology to identify and solve crime is an applauding use of technology, many experts have expressed concern that this may indirectly make India a surveillance state like its neighbouring country China and a recent tech analysis report asserts to this.

The recent study published by a Britain-based technology blog, Comparitech has found India amongst the worst-performing countries in term of digital privacy. The report had rated the countries on the basis of a number of categories ranging from the use of biometrics and CCTV to data sharing and retention laws, after exploring privacy laws and surveillance levels across 47 countries to determine where the governments were failing to protect the privacy of their citizens.

India’s position on privacy protection

As per the study, India is the third-worst for privacy after China and Russia in the non-EU countries with a score of 2.4 out of 5 which placed it under the countries with ‘Systemic failure to maintain safeguards’ category. Thailand and Malaysia which followed India at fourth and fifth positions at least have ‘Some safeguards, but weakened protections’. While Russia shares the same assessment as India, China has been marked with ‘Extensive surveillance’ assessment remark.

The report in overall painted a poor picture saying none of the countries were upholding the privacy standards at a consistent basis as it stated, “Not one country is consistent in protecting the privacy of its citizen, most are actively surveilling their citizens, and only five could be deemed to have adequate safeguards.” Those five include Ireland, France, Portugal, Denmark and Norway, all of which still scored only just a pinch higher than 3 out of 5.

The report mentioned a number of aspects of India’s laws and regulations that threaten citizen’s privacy. The foremost reason stated has been the Data Protection Bill which has not yet been placed in the Parliament and thus protections are weak at present. Also the largest biometric database created from the Aadhaar Identification Scheme which provides citizens with a unique ID number contains information such as purchases, bank accounts and insurance details. With no concrete laws to protect this information, the privacy of citizens is in grave danger.

While on one hand the CCTV system in the country not regulated with any strong privacy law which leaves it open to interpretation, on the other hand ten government agencies have been given the authorisation to decrypt, monitor and intercept data on any computer after receiving approval from the Home Secretary. Also India was placed 140th out of 180 countries for the Press Freedom Index in 2019 with at least six journalists being killed in the line of their work last year.

Indian government is taking steps to protect data privacy as it is preparing to present the Data Protection Bill in Parliament. The courts have also changed a few laws regarding the data privacy so that private companies do not have the right to request ID numbers and also government agencies’ access to the Aadhaar database has been withdrawn recently. When the new data protection law comes into effect it will see towards the ban of covert surveillance.

With India’s mission to transform into a complete digital economy, the prospect of cyber security and digital privacy protection is an important issue. There needs to be comprehensive security architecture in place and it needs to be monitored that the data belongs to the individuals to whom it is linked. It is not something that can be borrowed or looked after or owned by the organisations. It needs to be protected and secured in the right way to ensure that only the people supposed to use or see it, do so.

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