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Big Data and the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules 2011

Posted by Elonnai Hickok at Aug 11, 2015 07:01 AM |
Experts and regulators across jurisdictions are examining the impact of Big Data practices on traditional data protection standards and principles. This will be a useful and pertinent exercise for India to undertake as the government and the private and public sectors begin to incorporate and rely on the use of Big Data in decision making processes and organizational operations.This blog provides an initial evaluation of how Big Data could impact India's current data protection standards.

Experts and regulators across the globe are examining the impact of Big Data practices on traditional data protection standards and principles. This will be a useful and pertinent exercise for India to undertake as the government and the private and public sectors begin to incorporate and rely on the use of Big Data in decision making processes and organizational operations.

Below is an initial evaluation of how Big Data could impact India's current data protection standards.

India currently does not have comprehensive privacy legislation - but the Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information Rules 2011 formed under section 43A of the Information Technology Act 2000[1] define a data protection framework for the processing of digital data by Body Corporate. Big Data practices will impact a number of the provisions found in the Rules:

Scope of Rules: Currently the Rules apply to Body Corporate and digital data. As per the IT Act, Body Corporate is defined as "Any company and includes a firm, sole proprietorship or other association of individuals engaged in commercial or professional activities."

The present scope of the Rules excludes from its purview a number of actors that do or could have access to Big Data or use Big Data practices. The Rules would not apply to government bodies or individuals collecting and using Big Data. Yet, with technologies such as IoT and the rise of Smart Cities across India – a range of government, public, and private organizations and actors could have access to Big Data.

Definition of personal and sensitive personal data: Rule 2(i) defines personal information as "information that relates to a natural person which either directly or indirectly, in combination with other information available or likely to be available with a body corporate, is capable of identifying such person."

Rule 3 defines sensitive personal information as:

  • Password,
  • Financial information,
  • Physical/physiological/mental health condition,
  • Sexual orientation,
  • Medical records and history,
  • Biometric information

The present definition of personal data hinges on the factor of identification (data that is capable of identifying a person). Yet this definition does not encompass information that is associated to an already identified individual - such as habits, location, or activity.

The definition of personal data also addresses only the identification of 'such person' and does not address data that is related to a particular person but that also reveals identifying information about another person - either directly - or when combined with other data points.

By listing specific categories of sensitive personal information, the Rules do not account for additional types of sensitive personal information that might be generated or correlated through the use of Big Data analytics.

Importantly, the definitions of sensitive personal information or personal information do not address how personal or sensitive personal information - when anonymized or aggregated – should be treated.

Consent: Rule 5(1) requires that Body Corporate must, prior to collection, obtain consent in writing through letter or fax or email from the provider of sensitive personal data regarding the use of that data.

In a context where services are delivered with little or no human interaction, data is collected through sensors, data is collected on a real time and regular basis, and data is used and re-used for multiple and differing purposes - it is not practical, and often not possible, for consent to be obtained through writing, letter, fax, or email for each instance of data collection and for each use.

Notice of Collection: Rule 5(3) requires Body Corporate to provide the individual with a notice during collection of information that details the fact that information is being collected, the purpose for which the information is being collected, the intended recipients of the information, the name and address of the agency that is collecting the information and the agency that will retain the information. Furthermore body corporate should not retain information for longer than is required to meet lawful purposes.

Though this provision acts as an important element of transparency, in the context of Big Data, communicating the purpose for which data is collected, the intended recipients of the information, the name and address of the agency that is collecting the information and the agency that will retain the information could prove to be difficult to communicate as they are likely to encompass numerous agencies and change depending upon the analysis being done.

Access and correction: Rule 5(6) provides individuals with the ability to access sensitive personal information held by the body corporate and correct any inaccurate information.

This provision would be difficult to implement effectively in the context of Big Data as vast amounts of data are being generated and collected on an ongoing and real time basis and often without the knowledge of the individual.

Purpose Limitation: Rule 5(5) requires that body corporate should use information only of the purpose which it has been collected.

In the context of Big Data this provision would overlook the re-use of data that is inherent in such practices.

Security: Rule 8 states that any Body Corporate or person on its behalf will be understood to have complied with reasonable security practices and procedures if they have implemented such practices and have in place codes that address managerial, technical, operational and physical security control measures. These codes could follow the IS/ISO/IEC 27001 standard or another government approved and audited standard.

This provision importantly requires that data controllers collecting and processing data have in place strong security practices. In the context of Big Data – the security of devices that might be generating or collecting data and algorithms processing and analysing data is critical. Once generated, it might be challenging to ensure the data is being transferred to or being analysed by organisations that comply with such security practices as listed.

Data Breach : Rule 8 requires that if a data breach occurs, Body Corporate would have to be able to demonstrate that they have implemented their documented information security codes.

Though this provision holds a company accountable for the implementation of security practices, it does not address how a company should be held accountable for a large scale data breach as in the context of Big Data the scope and impact of a data breach is on a much larger scale.

Opt in and out and ability to withdraw consent : Rule 5(7) requires Body Corporate or any person on its behalf, prior to the collection of information - including sensitive personal information - must give the individual the option of not providing information and must give the individual the option of withdrawing consent. Such withdrawal must be sent in writing to the body corporate.

The feasibility of such a provision in the context of Big Data is unclear, especially in light of the fact that Big Data practices draw upon large amounts of data, generated often in real time, and from a variety of sources.

Disclosure of Information: Rule 6 maintains that disclosure of sensitive personal data can only take place with permission from the provider of such information or as agreed to through a lawful contract.

This provision addresses disclosure and does not take into account the “sharing” of information that is enabled through networked devices, as well as the increasing practice of companies to share anonymized or aggregated data.

Privacy Policy : Rule 4 requires that body corporate have in place a privacy policy on their website that provides clear and accessible statements of its practices and policies, type of personal or sensitive personal information that is being collected, purpose of the collection, usage of the information, disclosure of the information, and the reasonable security practices and procedures that have been put in place to secure the information.

In the context of Big Data where data from a variety of sources is being collected, used, and re-used it is important for policies to 'follow data' and appear in a contextualized manner. The current requirement of having Body Corporate post a single overarching privacy policy on its website could prove to be inadequate.

Remedy : Section 43A of the Act holds that if a body corporate is negligent in implementing and maintain reasonable security practices and procedures which results in wrongful loss or wrongful gain to any person, the body corporate can be held liable to pay compensation to the affected person.

This provision will provide limited remedy for an affected individual in the context of Big Data. Though important to help prevent data breaches resulting from negligent data practices, implementation of reasonable security practices and procedures cannot be the only hinging point for determining liability of a Body Corporate for violations and many of the harms possible through Big Data are not in the form of wrongful loss or wrongful gain to another person. Indeed many harms possible through Big Data are non-economic in nature – including physical invasion of privacy, and discriminatory practices that can arise from decisions based on Big Data analytics. Nor does the provision address the potential for future damage that can result from a 'Big Data data breach'.

The safeguards noted in the above section are not the only legal provisions that speak to privacy in India. There are over fifty sectoral legislation that have provisions addressing privacy - for example provisions addressing confidentiality of health and banking information. The government of India is also in the process of drafting a privacy legislation. In 2012 the Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy provided recommendations for a privacy framework in India. The Report envisioned a framework of co-regulation - with sector level self regulatory organization developing privacy codes (that are not lower than the defined national privacy principles) and that are enforced by a privacy commissioner.[2] Perhaps this method would be optimal for the regulation of Big Data- allowing for the needed flexibility and specificity in standards and device development. Though the Report notes that individuals can seek remedy from the court and the Privacy Commissioner can issue fines for a violation, the development of privacy legislation in India has yet to clearly integrate the importance of due process and remedy. With the onset of Big Data - this will become more important than ever.

Conclusion

The use and generation of Big Data in India is growing. Plans such as free wifi zones in cities[3], city wide CCTV networks with facial recognition capabilities[4], and the implementation of an identity/authentication platform for public and private services[5], are indicators towards a move of data generation that is networked and centralized, and where the line between public and private is blurred through the vast amount of data that is collected.

In such developments and innovations what is privacy and what role does privacy play? Is it the archaic inhibitor - limiting the sharing and use of data for new and innovative purposes? Will it be defined purely by legislative norms or through device/platform design as well? Is it a notion that makes consumers think twice about using a product or service or is it a practice that enables consumer and citizen uptake and trust and allows for the growth and adoption of these services?

How privacy will be regulated and how it will be perceived is still evolving across jurisdictions, technologies, and cultures - but it is clear that privacy is not being and cannot be overlooked. Governments across the world are reforming and considering current and future privacy regulation targeted towards life in a quantified society. As the Indian government begins to roll out initiatives that create a "Digital India" indeed a "quantified India", taking privacy into consideration could facilitate the uptake, expansion, and success of these practices and services. As the Indian government pursues the opportunities possible through Big Data it will be useful to review existing privacy protections and deliberate on if, and in what form, future protections for privacy and other rights will be needed.


[1]Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information Rules 2011). Available at: http://deity.gov.in/sites/upload_files/dit/files/GSR313E_10511(1).pdf

[2]Group of Experts on Privacy. (2012). Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy. New Delhi: Planning Commission, Government of India. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/genrep/rep_privacy.pdf

[3] NDTV. “Free Public Wi-Fi Facility in Delhi to Have Daily Data Limit. NDTV, May 25th 2015, Available at: http://gadgets.ndtv.com/internet/news/free-public-wi-fi-facility-in-delhi-to-have-daily-data-limit-695857. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[4]FindBiometrics Global Identity Management. “Surat Police Get NEC Facial Recognition CCTV System”. July 21st 2015. Available at: http://findbiometrics.com/surat-police-nec-facial-recognition-27214/

[5]UIDAI Official Website. Available at: https://uidai.gov.in/

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