Role Of Privacy In A Digital World


Data in the early stages was defined as ‘facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis’. But with digitization playing an increasingly integral role in each and every aspect of our lives, data is today much more than that. Data is shaping the world we live in, affecting how we react to the world and how the world responds to us. Industries today are taking a data-enhanced approach to improve the outcome of every aspect of their business. Targeted advertising using behavioral data is a form of data-based advertising that is showing an uptick in usage. In today’s digital economy, data has been anointed as the most valuable resource overtaking oil.

But the flip side of this explosion of data is the safety of data which includes personal and private aspects of an individual’s life. In a connected world, individuals are constantly sharing data even when innocuously updating their Facebook status by checking into an airport or restaurant. This explicit sharing of data is compounded by an implicit sharing of data through transactions on e-commerce sites, website visits, etc.

With India undergoing a ‘digital transformation’, a large quantum of data that includes sensitive personal data is being generated every second. Industries including telecom, financial services, healthcare, education and others deal with and generate humungous quantities of data each moment.

The digital transformation which started with exporting information technology services has come full circle with the digital ID program, Aadhar which is the largest digital identity program in the world. With Aadhar linkage to various aspects of an individual’s life like bank account, mobile phone, income tax returns being mandatory and being used for e-KYC for many other transactions, there has been concern of the privacy and security of the data that is being generated, stored and used by the various private and government organizations.

This had led to a slew of court cases which reached its first milestone with the recent judgment by a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court making privacy a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The order states, “The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.”

Data collected from millions of individuals is simultaneously a goldmine and a minefield, and this judgment is bound to create a deep impact on the existing data management ecosystem in India. Protecting data from being lost, breached or misused is crucial for an organization. Industries that deal with a large quantum of sensitive personal data will have to review their data strategy in the context of this historic order. The need to protect privileged information and tackle confidentiality issues will come to the fore with implications for organizations on how they store, move, protect, access and use their data.

Mobile handset manufacturers were already facing the possibility of having to set up servers in India to ensure protection of user data following concerns about security breaches. The judgment has now brought the need for secure data management to the fore. With more and more organizations migrating their data to the cloud for flexibility and accessibility, the challenge of managing data across multiple clouds and premises, across files, applications and databases while meeting policy, security and legal requirements is something that all organizations will need to face and address.

In such a case, individual point solutions are not the ideal solution. What organizations would require is a single, comprehensive data management platform to move, manage and use data across on-premises and cloud locations with comprehensive capabilities for data backup, recovery, management and e-discovery with the assurance of security for the data.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has constituted a Committee of Experts to deliberate on a data protection framework, identify key data protection issues and recommend methods of addressing them. This is expected to be followed by enactment of the Privacy Act. It is essential that organizations be future-ready with a safe and secure data management platform that allows an organization to own and be responsible for their data. With data privacy and sovereignty laws complicating globalization of information, today organizations need their data to be compliant while providing quick access for legal reasons. As Nick Harkaway says in ‘The Blind Giant – Being Human in Digital World’ - “… at root privacy is a simple understanding: not everything belongs to everyone.”