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Soumik Dey
Soumik Dey

Right to privacy

SC ruling on privacy may change business landscape: experts

right-privacy Representational image | AP

Privacy in the 21st century is a valuable commodity to ensure right to life and liberty, ruled the Supreme Court on Thursday. To that effect, data, the new proverbial oil, too would need to have defined ownership.

Data remained the price we paid for the convenience of using a smartphone, a browser, a search engine, a social networking site, booking holidays or shopping online.

But not any longer. In the wake of the apex court judgement, a user can seek to be compensated if his or her personal data is being used for profiteering with targeted advertisements.

"There's ammunition to attack the business models of say a Google or a Facebook, which targets users' browsing behaviour to generate revenue for themselves," said Mishi Choudhary, president, Software Law Freedom Centre, a internet legal rights-based organisation.

"We now have the right to say that no one but I own my data and seek a compensation to part with it even," added Choudhary. Similar debate is going on across EU and US and now India, which are attacking the business models of Uber and the likes that use consumer data for pricing their service or product, she added. "Any business model that is working with our data need to re-think their business strategies. Such business models are not ethical and would not be supported here on," Choudhdary said, on the future impact of the privacy law in internet business.

As the government is also pushing for adoption of increasingly data-centric governance models, it is necessary to respect an individual’s right to privacy at all levels of governance," she added.

Reacting to Thursday's judgement, telecom operators have said they will maintain status quo about asking consumers to link their Aadhaar numbers with their mobile numbers. “All our members are licensed operators and are therefore bound by licence conditions, always remaining fully compliant with the law of the land. Therefore, unless there are specific instructions from DoT to the contrary, this judgment would not impact the ongoing exercise of mandatory linking all mobile numbers to Aadhaar for e-KYC for subscriber verification," said Rajan Mathews, President, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).

The ongoing exercise presently carried out by telecos for subscriber verification are as per strict guidelines issued, monitored and enforced by DoT. "We await any further instruction or reference from the licensor in this regard," said Mathews.

The telecom industry feels that despite the judgement, there would be enough sensitivity around matters of security and the government would keep a 'sensitive balance between individual interests and legitimate concerns of the state.'

National security, network resilience, consumer interests and privacy are also of utmost priority to the industry, Mathews said.

Deepak Bhawnani, CEO of Alea Consulting, a corporate and forensic risk consulting company, indicated that the right to privacy needs an appropriate balance between confidentiality of financial and personal information.

"On an individual level, people need to have platforms to express their views and maintain social commentary and this information can remain public for decades as archiving is potentially unlimited on the cloud.

For finance, e-commerce, online banking, digital loan processing and registrations with government departments, the need for validation and verification of data is key to mitigate fraud, identity theft, and other misuses," said Bhawnani, whose firm investigates corporate and individual frauds.

A balanced mechanism between what is open source information and what is restricted access personal data and who and how it can be accessed will go a long way to resolve concerns, said Bhawnani.

Pritam Kumar Ghosh, an assistant lecturer at IFIM Law College, Bangalore, said, “The Aadhaar Act specifies that Aadhaar is no proof of citizenship but only a proof of an individual’s identity. Hence, Aadhaar itself cannot be called to violate rights of privacy of individual."

Echoing similar views, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said, "Aadhaar complies with all the data protection safeguards that the Supreme Court wants to protect privacy as a fundamental right."

Prasad said government will maintain status quo on all government related databases that have been conceived for the sake of e-governance.

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