Report on the 4th Privacy Round Table meeting

Posted by Maria Xynou at Jun 25, 2013 06:45 AM |
This report entails an overview of the discussions and recommendations of the fourth Privacy Round Table in Mumbai, on 15th June 2013.

This research was undertaken as part of the 'SAFEGUARDS' project that CIS is undertaking with Privacy International and IDRC


In furtherance of Internet Governance multi-stakeholder Initiatives and Dialogue in 2013, the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) in collaboration with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), and the Data Security Council of India (DSCI), is holding a series of six multi-stakeholder round table meetings on “privacy” from April 2013 to August 2013. The CIS is undertaking this initiative as part of their work with Privacy International UK on the SAFEGUARD project.

In 2012, the CIS and DSCI were members of the Justice AP Shah Committee which created the “Report of Groups of Experts on Privacy”. The CIS has recently drafted a Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013, with the objective of contributing to privacy legislation in India. The CIS has also volunteered to champion the session/workshops on “privacy” in the meeting on Internet Governance proposed for October 2013.

At the roundtables the Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy, DSCI´s paper on “Strengthening Privacy Protection through Co-regulation” and the text of the Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 will be discussed. The discussions and recommendations from the six round table meetings will be presented at the Internet Governance meeting in October 2013.

The dates of the six Privacy Round Table meetings are enlisted below:

  1. New Delhi Roundtable: 13 April 2013

  2. Bangalore Roundtable: 20 April 2013

  3. Chennai Roundtable: 18 May 2013

  4. Mumbai Roundtable: 15 June 2013

  5. Kolkata Roundtable: 13 July 2013

  6. New Delhi Final Roundtable and National Meeting: 17 August 2013

Following the first three Privacy Round Tables in Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai, this report entails an overview of the discussions and recommendations of the fourth Privacy Round Table meeting in Mumbai, on 15th June 2013.

Discussion of the Draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013

Discussion of definitions: Chapter 1

The fourth Privacy Round Table meeting began with a discussion of the definitions in Chapter 1 of the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013. In particular, it was stated that in India, the courts argue that the right to privacy indirectly derives from the right to liberty, which is guaranteed in article 21 of the constitution. However, this provision is inadequate to safeguard citizens from potential abuse, as it does not protect their data adequately. Thus, all the participants in the meeting agreed with the initial notion that India needs privacy legislation which will explicitly regulate data protection, the interception of communications and surveillance within India. To this extent, the participants started a thorough discussion of the definitions used in the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013.

It was specified in the beginning of the meeting that the definition of personal data in the Bill applies to natural persons and not to juristic persons. A participant argued that the Information Technology Act refers to personal data and that the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 should be harmonised with existing rules. This was countered by a participant who argued that the European Union considers the Information Technology Act inadequate in protecting personal data in India and that since India does not have data secure adequacy, the Bill and the IT Act should not be harmonised.

Other participants argued that all other relevant acts should be quoted in the discussion so that it does not overlap with existing provisions in other rules, such as the IT Act. Furthermore, this was supported by the notion that the Bill should not clash with existing legislation, but this was dismissed by the argument that this Bill – if enacted into law – would over right all other competing legislation. Special laws over right general laws in India, but this would be a special law for the specific purpose of data protection.

The definition of sensitive personal data includes biometric data, political affiliation and past criminal history, but does not include ethnicity, caste, religion, financial information and other such information. It was argued that one of the reasons why such categories are excluded from the definition of sensitive personal data is because the government requests such data on a daily basis and that it is not willing to take any additional expense to protect such data. It was stated that the Indian government has argued that such data collection is necessary for caste census and that financial information, such as credit data, should not be included in the definition for sensitive personal data, because a credit Act in India specifically deals with how credit data should be used, shared and stored.

Such arguments were backlashed by participants arguing that definitions are crucial because they are the “building blocks” of the entire Bill and that ethnicity, caste, religion and financial information should not be excluded from the Bill, as they include information which is sensitive within the Indian context. In particular, some participants argued that the Bill would be highly questioned by countries with strong privacy legislation, as certain categories of information, such as ethnicity and caste, are definitely considered to be sensitive personal information within India. The argument that it is too much of a bureaucratic and financial burden for the Indian government to protect such personal data was countered by participants who argued that in that case, the government should not be collecting that information to begin with – if it cannot provide adequate safeguards.

The debate on whether ethnicity, religion, caste and financial information should be included in the definition for sensitive personal data continued with a participant arguing that no cases of discrimination based on such data have been reported and that thus, it is not essential for such information to be included in the definition. This argument was strongly countered by participants who argued that the mere fact that the government is interested in this type of information implies that it is sensitive and that the reasons behind the governments´ interest in this information should be investigated. Furthermore, some participants argued that a new provision for data on ethnicity, religion, caste and financial information should be included, as well as that there is a difference between voluntarily handing over such information and being forced to hand it over.

The inclusion of passwords and encryption keys in the definition of sensitive personal data was highly emphasized by several participants, especially since their disclosure can potentially lead to unauthorised access to volumes of personal data. It was argued that private keys in encryption are extremely sensitive personal data and should definitely be included within the Bill.

In light of the NSA leaks on PRISM, several participants raised the issue of Indian authorities protecting data stored in foreign servers. In particular, some participants argued that the Bill should include provisions for data stored in foreign servers in order to avoid breaches for international third parties. However, a participant argued that although Indian companies are subject to the law, foreign data processors cannot be subject to Indian law, which is why they should instead provide guarantees through contracts.

Several participants strongly argued that the IT industry should not be subject to some of the privacy principles included in the Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy, such as the principle of notice. In particular, they argued that customers choose to use specific services and that by doing so, they trust companies with their data; thus the IT industry should not have to comply with the principle of notice and should not have to inform individuals of how they handle their data.

On the issue of voluntary disclosure of personal data, a participant argued that, apart from the NPR and UID, Android and Google are conducting the largest data collection within India and that citizens should have the jurisdiction to go to court and to seek that data. The issue of data collection was further discussed over the next sessions.

Right to Privacy: Chapter 2

The discussion of the right to privacy, as entailed in chapter 2 of the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013, started with a participant stating that governments own the data citizens hand over to them and that this issue, along with freedom from surveillance and illegal interception, should be included in the Bill.

Following the distinction between exemptions and exceptions to the right to privacy, a participant argued that although it is clear that the right to privacy applies to all natural persons in India, it is unclear if it also applies to organizations. This argument was clarified by a participant who argued that chapter 2 clearly protects natural persons, while preventing organisations from intervening to this right. Other participants argued that the language used in the Bill should be more gender neutral and that the term “residential property” should be broadened within the exemptions to the right to privacy, to also include other physical spaces, such as shops. On this note, a participant argued that the word “family” within the exemptions should be more specifically defined, especially since in many cases husbands have controlled their wives when they have had access to their personal accounts.

The definition of “natural person” was discussed, while a participant raised the question of whether data protection applies to persons who have undergone surgery and who have changed their sexual orientation; it was recommended that such provisions are included within the Bill. The above questions were answered by a participant who argued that the generic European definitions for “natural persons” and “family” could be adopted, as well as that CCTV cameras used in public places, such as shops, should be subject to the law, because they are used to monitor third parties.

Other participants suggested that commercial violations are not excluded from the Bill, as the broadcasting of people, for example, can potentially lead to a violation of the right to privacy. In particular, it was argued that commercial establishments should not be included in the exemptions section of the right to privacy, in contrast to other arguments that were in favour of it. Furthermore, participants argued that the interaction between transparency and freedom of information should be carefully examined and that the exemptions to the right to privacy should be drafted accordingly.

Protection of Personal Data: Chapter 3

Some of the most important discussions in the fourth Privacy Round Table meeting revolved around the protection of personal data.

Collection of personal data

The discussion on the collection of personal data started with a statement that the issue of individual consent prior to data collection is essential and that in every case, the data subject should be informed of its data collection, data processing, data sharing and data retention.

It was pointed out that, unlike most privacy laws around the world, this Bill is affirmative because it states that data can only be collected once the data subject has provided prior consent. It was argued that if this Bill was enacted into law, it would probably be one of the strictest laws in the world in terms of data collection, because data can only be collected with individual consent and a legitimate purpose. Data collection in the EU is not as strict, as there are some exemptions to individual consent; for example, if someone in the EU has a heart attack, other individuals can disclose his or her information. It was emphasized that as this Bill limits data collection to individual consent, it does not serve other cases when data collection may be necessary but individual consent is not possible. A participant pointed out that, although the Justice AP Shah Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy states that “consent may not be acquired in some cases”, such cases are not specified within the Bill.

Other issues that were raised are that the Bill does not specify how individual consent would be obtained as a prerequisite to data collection. In particular, it remains unclear whether such consent would be acquired through documentation, a witness or any other way. Thus it was emphasized that the method for acquiring individual consent should be clearly specified within the Bill, especially since it is practically hard to obtain consent for large portions of the Indian population that live below the line of poverty.

A participant argued that data collection on private detectives, from reality TV shows and on physical movement and location should also be addressed in the Bill. Furthermore, other participants argued that specific explanations to exempt medical cases and state collection of data which is directly related to the provision of welfare should be included in the Bill. Participants recommended that individuals should have the right to opt out from data collection for the purpose of providing welfare programmes and other state-run programmes.

The need to define the term “legitimate purpose” was pointed out to ensure that data is not breached when it is being collected. A participant recommended the introduction of a provision in the Bill for anonymising data in medical case studies and it was pointed out that it is very important to define what type of data can be collected. In particular, it was argued that a large range of personal data is being collected in the name of “public health” and “public security” and that, in many cases, patients may provide misinformed consent, because they may think that the revelation of their personal data is necessary, when actually it might not be. It was recommended that this issue is addressed and that necessary provisions are included in the Bill.

In the cases where data is collected for statistics, individuals may not be informed of their data being collected and may not provide consent. It was also recommended that this issue is addressed and included in the Bill. However, it was also pointed out that in many cases, individuals may choose to use a service, but they may not be able to consent to their data collection and Android is an example of this. Thus it was argued that companies should be transparent about how they handle users´ data and that they should require individuals´ consent prior to data collection.

It was emphasized that governments have a duty of transparency towards their citizens and that the fact that, in many cases, citizens are obliged to hand over their data without giving prior consent to how their data is being used should be taken into consideration. In particular, it was argued that many citizens need to use specific services or welfare programmes and that they are obliged to hand over their personal information. It was recommended that the Bill incorporates provisions which would oblige all services to acquire individual consent prior to data collection. However, the issue that was raised is that often companies provide long and complicated contracts and policy guides which discourage individuals from reading them and thus from providing informed consent; it was recommended that this issue is addressed as well.

Storage and destruction of personal data

The discussion on the storage and destruction of personal data started with a statement that different sectors should have different data retention frameworks. The proposal that a ubiquitous data retention framework should not apply to all sectors was challenged by a participant who stated that the same data retention period should apply to all ISPs and telecoms. Furthermore, it was added that regulators should specify the data retention period based on specific conditions and circumstances. This argument was countered by participants who argued that each sector should define its data retention framework depending on many variables and factors which affect the collection and use of data.

In European laws, no specific data retention periods are established. In particular, European laws generally state that data should only be retained for a period related to the purpose of its collection. Hence it was pointed out that data retention frameworks should vary from sector to sector, as data, for example, may need to be retained longer for medical cases than for other cases. This argument, however, was countered by participants who argued that leaving the prescription of a data retention period to various sectors may not be effective in India.

Questions of how data retention periods are defined were raised, as well as which parties should be authorised to define the various purposes for data retention. One participant recommended that a common central authority is established, which can help define the purpose for data retention and the data retention period for each sector, as well as to ensure that data is destroyed once the data retention period is over. Another participant recommended that a three year data retention period should be applied to all sectors by default and that such periods could be subject to change depending on specific cases.

Security of personal data and duty of confidentiality

Participants recommended that the definition of “data integrity” should be included in Chapter 1 of the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013. Other participants raised the need to define the term “adequacy” in the Bill, as well as to state some parameters for it. It was also suggested that the term “adequacy” could be replaced by the term “reasonable”.

One of the participants raised the issue of storing data in a particular format, then having to transfer that data to another format which could result in the modification of that data. It was pointed out that the form and manner of securing personal data should be specifically defined within the Bill. However, it was argued that the main problem in India is the implementation of the law, and that it would be very difficult to practically implement the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill in India.

Disclosure of personal data

The discussion on the disclosure of personal data started with a participant arguing that the level of detail disclosed within data should be specified within the Bill. Another participant argued that the privacy policies of most Internet services are very generic and that the Bill should prevent such services from publicly disclosing individuals´ data. On this note, a participant recommended that a contract and a subcontract on the disclosure of personal data should be leased in order to ensure that individuals are aware of what they are providing their consent to.

It was recommended that the Bill should explicitly state that data should not be disclosed for any other purpose other than the one for which an individual has provided consent. Data should only be used for its original purpose and if the purpose for accessing data changes within the process, consent from the individual should be acquired prior to the sharing and disclosure of that data. A participant argued that banks are involved with consulting and other advisory services which may also lead to the disclosure of data; all such cases when information is shared and disclosed to (unauthorised) third parties should be addressed in the Bill.

Several participants argued that companies should be responsible for the data they collect and that should not share it or disclose it to unauthorised third parties without individuals´ knowledge or consent. On this note, other participants argued that companies should be legally allowed to share data within a group of companies, as long as that data is not publicly disclosed. An issue that was raised by one of the participants is that online companies, such as Gmail, usually acquire consent from customers through one “click” to a huge document which not only is usually not read by customers, but which vaguely entails all the cases for which individuals would be providing consent for. This creates the potential for abuse, as many specific cases which would require separate, explicit consent, are not included within this consent mechanism.

This argument was countered by a participant who stated that the focus should be on code operations for which individuals sign and provide consent, rather than on the law, because that would have negative implications on business. It was highlighted that individuals choose to use specific services and that by doing so they trust companies with their data. Furthermore, it was argued that the various security assurances and privacy policies provided by companies should suffice and that the legal regulation of data disclosure should be avoided.

Consent-based sharing of data should be taken into consideration, according to certain participants. The factor of “opt in” should also be included when a customer is asked to give informed consent. Participants also recommended that individuals should have the power to “opt out”, which is currently not regulated but deemed to be extremely important. Generally it was argued that the power to “opt in” is a prerequisite to “opt out”, but both are necessary and should be regulated in the Bill.

A participant emphasized the need to regulate phishing in the Bill and to ensure that provisions are in place which could protect individuals´ data from phishing attacks. On the issue of consent when disclosing personal data, participants argued that consent should be required even for a second flow of data and for all other flows of data to follow. In other words, it was recommended that individual consent is acquired every time data is shared and disclosed. Moreover, it was argued that if companies decide to share data, to store it somewhere else or to disclose it to third parties years after its initial collection, the individual should have the right to be informed.

However, such arguments were countered by participants who argued that systems, such as banks, are very complex and that they don´t always have a clear idea of where data flows. Thus, it was argued that in many cases, companies are not in a position to control the flow of data due to a lack of its lack of traceability and hence to inform individuals every time their data is being shared or disclosed.

Participants argued that the phrase “threat to national security” in section 10 of the Bill should be explicitly defined, because national security is a very broad term and its loose interpretation could potentially lead to data breaches. Furthermore, participants argued that it is highly essential to specify which authorities would determine if something is a threat to national security.

The discussion on the disclosure of personal data concluded with a participant arguing that section 10 of the Bill on the non-disclosure of information clashes with the Right to Information Act (RTI Act), which mandates the opposite. It was recommended that the Bill addresses the inevitable clash between the non-disclosure of information and the right to information and that necessary provisions are incorporated in the Bill.

Presentation by Mr. Billy Hawkes – Irish Data Protection Commissioner

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner, Mr. Billy Hawkes, attended the fourth Privacy Round Table meeting in Mumbai and discussed the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013.

In particular, Mr. Hawkes stated that data protection law in Ireland was originally introduced for commercial purposes and that since 2009 privacy has been a fundamental right in the European Union which spells out the basic principles for data protection. Mr. Hawkes argued that India has successful outsourcing businesses, but that there is a concern that data is not properly protected. India has not been given data protection adequacy by the European Union, mainly because the country lacks privacy legislation.

There is a civic society desire for better respect for human rights and there is the industrial desire to be considered adequate by the European Union and to attract more international customers. However, privacy and data protection are not covered adequately in the Information Technology Act, which is why Mr. Hawkes argued that the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 should be enacted in compliance with the principles from the Justice AP Shah Report on the Group of Experts on Privacy. Enacting privacy legislation in India would, according to Mr. Hawkes, be a prerequisite so that India can potentially be adequate in data protection in the future.

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner referred to the current negotiations taking place in the European Union for the strengthening of the 1995 Directive on Data Protection, which is currently being revisited and which will be implemented across the European Union. Mr. Hawkes emphasized that it is important to have strong enforcement powers and to ask companies to protect data. In particular, he argued that data protection is good customer service and that companies should acknowledge this, especially since data protection reflects respect towards customers.

Mr. Hawkes highlighted that other common law countries, such as Canada and New Zealand, have achieved data secure adequacy and that India can potentially be adequate too. More and more countries in the world are seeking European adequacy. Privacy law in India would not only safeguard human rights, but it´s also good business and would attract more international customers, which is why European adequacy is important. In every outsourcing there needs to be a contract which states that the requirements of the data controller have been met. Mr. Hawkes emphasized that it is a competitive disadvantage in the market to not be data adequate, because most countries will not want their data outsourced to countries which are inadequate in data security.

As a comment to previous arguments stated in the meeting, it was pointed out that in Ireland, if companies and banks are not able to track the flow of data, then they are considered to be behaving irresponsibly. Furthermore, Mr. Hawkes states that data adequacy is a major reputational issue and that inadequacy in data security is bad business. It is necessary to know where the responsibility for data lies, which party initially outsourced the data and how it is currently being used. Data protection is a fundamental right in the European Union and when data flows outside the European Union, the same level of protection should apply. Thus other non-EU countries should comply with regulations for data protection, not only because it is a fundamental human right, but also because it is bad business not to do so.

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner also referred to the “Right to be Forgotten”, which is the right to be told how long data will be retained for and when it will be destroyed. This provides individuals some control over their data and the right to demand this control.

On the funding of data protection authorities, Mr. Hawkes stated that funding varies and that in most cases, the state funds the data protection authority – including Ireland. Data protection authorities are substantially funded by their states across the European Union and they are allocated a budget every year which is supposed to cover all their costs. The Spanish data protection authorities, however, are an exception because a large amount of their activities are funded by fines.The data protection authorities in the UK (ICO) are funded through registration fees paid by companies and other organizations.

When asked about how many employees are working in the Irish data protection commissioner´s office, Mr. Hawkes replied that only thirty individuals are employed. Employees working in the commissioner´s office are responsible for overseeing the protection of the data of Facebook users, for example. Facebook-Ireland is responsible for handling users´ data outside of North America and the commissioner´s office conducted a detailed analysis to ensure that data is protected and that the company meets certain standards. Facebook´s responsibility is limited as a data controller as individuals using the service are normally covered by the so-called "household exemption" which puts them outside the scope of data protection law. The data protection commissioner conducts checks and balances, writes reports and informs companies that if they comply with privacy and data protection, then they will be supported.

Data protection in Ireland covers all the organizations, without exception. Mr. Hawkes stated that EU data protection commissioners meeting in the "Article 29" Working Party spend a significant amount of their time dealing with companies like Google and Facebook and with whether they protect their customers´ data.

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner recommended that India establishes a data protection commission based on the principles included in the Justice AP Shah Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy. In particular, an Indian data protection commission would have to deal with a mix of audit inspections, complaints, greater involvement with sectors, transparency, accountability and liability to the law. Mr. Hawkes emphasized that codes of practice should be implemented and that the focus should not be on bureaucracy, but on accountability. It was recommended that India should adopt an accountability approach, where punishment will be in place when data is breached.

On the recent leaks on the NSA´s surveillance programme, PRISM, Mr. Hawkes commented that he was not surprised. U.S. companies are required to give access to U.S. law enforcement agencies and such access is potentially much looser in the European Union than in the U.S., because in the U.S. a court order is normally required to access data, whereas in the European Union that is not always the case. Mr. Hawkes stated that there needs to be a constant questioning of the proportionality, necessity and utility of surveillance schemes and projects in order to ensure that the right to privacy and other human rights are not violated.

Mr. Hawkes stated that the same privacy law should apply to all organizations and that India should ensure its data adequacy over the next years. The Irish Data Protection Commissioner is responsible for Facebook Ireland and European law is about protecting the rights of any organisation that comes under European jurisdiction, whether it is a bank or a company. Mr. Billy Hawkes emphasized that the focus in India should be on adequacy in data security and in protecting citizens´ rights.

Meeting conclusion

The fourth Privacy Round Table meeting entailed a discussion of the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 and Mr. Billy Hawkes, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, gave a presentation on adequacy in data security and on his thoughts on data protection in India. The discussion on the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 led to a debate and analysis of the definitions used in the Bill, of chapter 2 on the right to privacy, and on data collection, data retention, data sharing and data disclosure. The participants provided a wide range of recommendations for the improvement of the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill and all will be incorporated in the final draft. The Irish Data Protection Commissioner, Mr. Billy Hawkes, stated that the European Union has not given data adequacy to India because it lacks privacy legislation and that data inadequacy is not only a competitive disadvantage in the market, but it also shows a lack of respect towards customers. Mr. Hawkes strongly recommended that privacy legislation in compliance with the Justice AP Shah report is enacted, to ensure that India is potentially adequate in data security in the future and that citizens´ right to privacy and other human rights are guaranteed.

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