Report on the 5th Privacy Round Table meeting

Posted by Maria Xynou at Jul 24, 2013 08:45 AM |
This report entails an overview of the discussions and recommendations of the fifth Privacy Round Table in Calcutta, on 13th July 2013.

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


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 seven multi-stakeholder round table meetings on “privacy” from April 2013 to October 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 round table meetings will be presented at the Internet Governance meeting in October 2013.

The dates of the seven 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 Roundtable: 24 August 2013

  7. New Delhi Final Roundtable and National Meeting: 19 October 2013

Following the first four Privacy Round Tables in Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai, this report entails an overview of the discussions and recommendations of the fifth Privacy Round Table meeting in Kolkata, on 13th July 2013.

Presentation by Mr. Reijo Aarnio – Finnish Data Protection Ombudsman

The fifth Privacy Round Table meeting began with a presentation by Mr. Reijo Aarnio, the Finnish Data Protection Ombudsman. In particular, Mr. Aarnio initiated his presentation by distinguishing privacy and data protection and by emphasizing the need to protect both equally within a legal framework. Mr. Aarnio proceeded by highlighting that 96 percent of the Finnish community believes that data protection is necessary, especially since it is considered to play an essential role in the enhancement of the self-determination of the individual. Fuerthermore, Mr. Aarnio pointed out that the right to privacy in Finland in guaranteed under section 10 of the Finnish constitution.

The Finnish Data Protection Ombudsman argued that in order for India to gain European data protection adequacy, the implementation of a regulation for data protection in the country is a necessary prerequisite. Mr. Aarnio argued that although the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 provides a decisive step in regulating the use of data, the interception of communications and surveillance in India, it lacks in defining the data controller and the data subject, both of which should be legally specified.

In order to support his argument that India needs privacy legislation, the Ombudsman clarified the term “data protection” by stating that it relates to the following:

  • individual autonomy

  • the right to know

  • the right to live without undue interference

  • the right to be evaluated on the basis of correct and relevant information

  • the right to know the criteria automatic decision-making systems are based on

  • the right to trust data security

  • the right to receive assistance from independent authorities

  • the right to be treated in accordance with all other basic rights in a democracy

  • the right to have access to public documents

  • the freedom of speech

In addition to the above, Mr. Aarnio argued that the reason why data protection is important is because it ensures the respect for human dignity, individual autonomy and honor.

The Finnish Data Protection Ombudsman gave a brief overview of the development and history of data protection, by citing the oathe of Hippokrates, the Great Revolutions and World War II, all throughout which data protection has gained increased significance. Mr. Aarnio pointed out that as a result of the development and proliferation of technology, societies have evolved and that data protection is a major component of the contemporary Information Society. The Ombudsman stated that in the Information Society, information is money and open data and big data are products which are being commercialised and commodified. Hence, in order to ensure that human rights are not commericalised and commodified in the process, it is necessary to establish legal safeguards which can prevent potential abuse.

Article 8 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights guarantees the protection of personal data. Mr. Aarnio argued that the Parliament is the most important data protection authority in Europe and that privacy is legally guaranteed on three levels:

  • Protection of personal life: The Criminal Code (chapter 24) addresses and protects freedom of speech and secrecy regulations

  • Communication: Protection of content and traffic data

  • Data Protection: The Personal Data Act creates Right to Know and to affect/impact, the right to organise one's personal life, automatic processing of personal data and maintenance of register

The Ombudsman also referred to the Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and the free movement of such data.

Mr. Aarnio argued that in the contemporary ecosystem of the Information Society, countries need “Privacy by Design”, which entails the description of the processing of personal data and the evaluation of its lawfulness. In particular, the purpose for the collection and processing of data should be legally defined, as well as whether such data will be shared with third parties, disclosed and/or retained. The Ombudsman argued that India needs to define its data controllers and to legally specify their roles, in order to ensure that the management of data does not result in the infringement upon the right to privacy and other human rights.

The Finnish Data Protection Ombudsman concluded his presentation by stating that data security is not only a technological matter, but also – and in some cases, mostly – a legal issue, which is why India should enact the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013.

Discussion of the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013

Chapter I: Definitions

The discussion of the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 commenced with a debate on whether such a Bill is necessary at all, given that section 43 of the IT Act is considered (by participants at the round table) to regulate the protection of data. It was pointed out that although section 43 of the Information Technology Act provides some rules for data protection, the Committee has stated that these rules are inadequate. In particular, India currently lacks statutory provisions dealing with data protection and rules are inadequate because they are subject to parliamentary debate, and the Parliament does not have the right to vote on rules. The Parliament does not have the right to amend rules, which means that it does not have the right to amend the rules on data protection under the IT Act. Since the rules under section 43 of the IT Act are not subject to parliamentary review, India needs a seperate privacy statutue. Hence, the round table reached a consensus on the discussion of the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013.

Personal data is defined in the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 as any data which relates to a natural person, while sensitive personal data is defined as a subset of personal data, such as biometric data, medical history, sexual preference, political affiliation and criminal history. It was pointed out that race, religion and caste are not included in the Bill's definition for sensitive personal data because the Government of India refuses to acknowledge these types of information as personal data. According to the Government, the collection of such data is routine and there have been no cases when such data has been breached, which is why race, religion and caste should not be included in the definition for sensitive personal information. However, the last caste sensus took place in 1931 and since then there has been no caste sensus, because it is considered to be a sensitive issue. This contradictory fact to the government's position was pointed out during the round table meeting.

A participant argued that financial information should be included within the definition for sensitive personal data. This was countered by a participant who argued that India has the Credit Information Companies Act which covers credit information and sets out specific information for the protection of credit data by banks and relevant companies. Yet the question of whether general financial information should be included in the definition for sensitive personal data was further discussed, and many participants supported its inclusion in the definition.

The question of whether IP addresses should be included in the definition for personal data was raised. The response to this question was that IP addresses should be included in the definition since they relate to the identification of a natural person. However, the question of whether a specific IP address is considered personal data, as many individuals use the Web through the same IP address, remained unclear. Other participants raised the question of whether unborn humans and deceased persons should have privacy rights. The response to this was that in India, only the court can decide if a deceased person can have the right to privacy.

The controversy between the UID project and the protection of biometric data under the definition for sensitive personal information was discussed in the round table. In particular, it was pointed out that because the UID scheme requires the mass biometric collection in India is contradictory to the protection of such data under the Bill. As the UID scheme remains unregulated, it is unclear who will have access to the biometric data, who it will be shared with, whether it will be disclosed and retained and if so, for how long. All the questions which revolve around the implementation of the UID scheme and the use of the biometric data collected raise concerns in regards to what extent such data can realistically be protected under privacy legislation.

On this note, a participant mentioned that under EU regulation, an ID number is included in the definition for sensitive personal information and it was recommended that the same is added in India's draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013. Furthermore, a participant recommended that fingerprints are also included in the definition for sensitive personal data, especially in light of the NPR and UID scheme.

A participant argued that passwords should also be included in the definition for sensitive personal data, as well as private keys which are used for encryption and decryption. It was pointed out that section 69 of the IT Act requires the disclosure of encryption keys upon the request from authorities, which potentially can lead to the violation of privacy and other human rights. Hence the significance of protecting passwords and encryption keys which can safeguard data was highly emphasized and it was argued that they should definitely be included in the definition for sensitive personal data. This position was countered by a participant who argued that the Government of India should have access to private encyrption keys for national security purposes.

On the definition of sensitive personal data, it was emphasized that this term should relate to all data which can be used for discrimination, which is why it needs to be protected. It was further emphasized that it took Europe twelve years to reach a definition for personal data, which is why India still needs to look at the issue in depth and encounter all the possible violations which may potentially occur from the non-regulation of various types of data. Most participants agreed that financial information, passwords and private encryption keys should be added in the definition for sensitive personal data.

The fifth round table entailed a debate on whether political affiliation should be included in the definition for sensitive personal data. In particular, one participant argued that political parties disclose the names of their members and that in many cases they are required to do in order to show their source of income. Hence, it was argued that political affiliation should not be included in the definition for sensitive personal data, since it is not realistic to expect political parties to protect their members' privacy. This was countered by other participants who argued that anonymity in political communications is important, especially when an individual is in a minority position, which is why the term political affiliation should be included in the definition for sensitive personal data.

The discussion on the definitions in the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 concluded with comments that the definiton for surveillance is very exclusive of many types of surveillance. In particular, it was argued that the definition for surveillance does not appear to cover artificial intelligence, screen shots and various other forms of surveillance, all of which should be regulated.

Chapter II: Right to Privacy

Section 4 of the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 states that all natural persons have a right to privacy. Section 5 of the Bill includes exemptions to the right to privacy. On this note, it was pointed out that during the round table that there is no universal definition of privacy and thus it is challenging to define the term and to regulate it. Furthermore, the rapid pace at which technology is proliferating was emphasized, along with its impact on the right to privacy. For example, it was mentioned that emails were not covered by privacy legislation in the past, but this needs to be amended accordingly. The European Data Protection Directive was established in 1995 and does not regulate many privacy issues which arise through the Internet, which is why it is currently being reviewed. Similarily, it was argued that privacy legislation in India should encompass provisions for potential data breaches which may occur through the Internet and various forms of technology.

A participant argued that the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 should include provisions for data subjects, which enable them to address their rights. In particular, it was argued that data subjects should have the right to access information collected and retained about them and that they should have the right to make corrections. The reponse to this comment was that the Bill may be split into two seperate Bills, where the one would regulate data protection and the other would regulate the interception of communications and surveillance, while the data subject would be addressed extensively. Furthermore, participants raised questions of how to define the data controller and the data subjects within the Indian context.

Other questions which were raised during the round table included whether spam should be addressed by the Bill. Several participants argued that spam should not be regulated, as it is not necessarily harmful to data subjects. Other participants argued that the isse of access to data should be addressed prior to the definition of privacy. Another argument was that commerical surveillance should not be conducted within restrictions, which is why it should not be inlcuded in the exemptions to the right to privacy. It was also pointed out that residential surveillance should be allowed, as long as the cameras are pointed inwards and do not capture footage of third parties outside of a residence. On this note, it was argued that surveillance in the work place should also be exempted from the right to privacy, as that too can be considered the private property of the owner. Moreover, it was emphasized that the surveillance of specific categories of people should also be excluded from the exemptions to the right to privacy.

A participant argued that in some cases, NGOs may be collecting information for some “beneficial purpose” and that such cases should be excluded from the exemptions to the right to privacy. Other participants argued that in many cases, data needs to be collected for market research and that the Bill should regulate what applies in such cases. All such arguments were countered by a participant, who argued that Section 5 of the Bill on the exemptions to the right to privacy should be deleted, as it creates to many complications. This recommendation was backed up by the example of a husband capturing a photograph of his wife and then publishing the image without her consent.

During this discussion, a participant raised the question of to what extent the right to privacy applies to minors. This question was supported by the example of Facebook, where many minors have profiles but the extent to which this data is protected remains ambiguous. Furthermore, it was pointed out that it remains unclear whether privacy legislation can practically safeguard minors who choose to share their data online. A participant responded to these concerns by stating that Facebook is a data controller and has to comply with privacy law to protect its customers' data. It was pointed out that it does not matter if the data controller is a company or an NGO; in every case, the data controller is obliged to comply with data protection law and regulations.

Furthermore, it was pointed out that Facebook allows for minors aged 13 to create a profile, while it remains unclear how minors can enforce their privacy rights. In particular, it remains unclear how the mediated collection of minors' data can be regulated and it was recommended that this is addressed by the Bill. A participant replied to this by stating that Indian laws rule in favour of minors, but that this simultaneously remains a grey area. In particular, it was pointed out that rules under section 43 of the Information Technology (IT) Act cover Internet access by minors, but this still remains an unclear area which needs further debate and analysis.

The question which prevailed at the end of the discussion of Chapter 2 of the Bill was on the social media and minors, and on how minors' data can be protected when it is being published immediately through the social media, such as Facebook. Furthermore, it was recommended that the Bill addresses the practical operationalisation of the right to privacy within the Indian context.

Chapter III: Protection of Personal Data

The discussion of Chapter 3 of the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 on the protection of personal data commenced with a reference to the nine privacy principles of the Justice AP Shah Justice Committee. The significance of the principles of notice and consent were outlined, as it was argued that individuals should have the right to be informed about the data collected about them, as well as to have the rigt to access such data and make possible corrections.

Collection of Personal Data

The discussion on the collection of personal data (as outlined in Section 6 of Chapter 3 of the Bill) commenced with a participant arguing that a company seeking to collect personal data should always have a stated function. In particular, a company selling technological products or services should not collect biometric data, for example, unless it serves a specified function. It was pointed out that data collection should be restricted to the specified purposes. For example, a hospital should be able to collect medical data because it relates to its stated function, but an online company which provides services should not be eligible to collect such data, as it deviates from its stated function.

During the discussion, it was emphasized that individuals should have the right to be informed when their data is being collected, which data is being collected, the conditions for the disclosure of such data and everything else that revolves around the use of their data once it has been collected. However, a participant questioned whether it is practically feasible for individuals to provide consent to the collection of their data every time it is being collected, especially since the privacy policies of companies keep changing. Moreover, it was questioned whether companies can or should resume the consent of their customers once their privacy policy has changed. On this note, a participant argued that companies should be obliged to notify their customers every time their privacy policy changes and every time the purpose behind their data collection changes.

On the issue of consent for data collection, a participant argued that individuals should have the right to withdraw their consent, even after their data has been collected and in such cases, such data should be destroyed. This was countered by another participant who argued that it is not realistic to expect companies to acquire individual consent every time the purpose behind data collection changes, nor is it feasible to allow for the withdrawal of consent without probable cause.

The issue of indirect consent to the collection of personal data was raised and, in particular, several participants argued that the Bill should have provisions which would regulate circumstances where indirect consent can be obtained for the collection of personal data. Furthermore, it was emphasized that the Bill should also include a notice for all potential purposes of data collection which may arise in the future; if the purpose for data collection changes based on conditions specified, then companies should not be mandated to notify individuals. Moreover, a participant argued that the Bill should include provisions which would enable individuals to opt-in and/or opt-out from data collection.

On the issue of consent, it was further outlined that consent provides a legitimate purpose to process data and that the data subject should have the right to be informed prior to the collection of his or her data. However, it was emphasized that the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 is a very strict regulation, as consent cannot always be acquired prior to data collection, because there are many cases where this is not practically feasible. It was pointed out that in the European Data Protection Directive, it is clear that consent cannot always be acquired prior to data collection. The example of medical cases was mentioned, as patients may not always be capable to provide consent to data collection which may be necessary.

In particular, it was highlighted that the European Data Protection Directive includes provisions for the processing of personal data, as well as exceptions for when consent is not required prior to data collection. The Directive guarantees the legitimate interest of the data controller and data processing is based upon the provisions of privacy legislation. The outsourcing of data is regulated in the European Union, and it was recommended that India regulates it too. Following this comment, it was stated that the recent leaks on the NSA's surveillance raise the issue of non-consentual state collection of data and non-consentual private disclosure of data and a brief debate revolved around these issues in the round table.

On the issue of mediated data collection, the situations in which collected data is mediated by third parties was analysed. It was recommended that the law is flexible to address the various types of cases when collected data is mediated, such as when a guardian needs to handle and take decisions for data of a mentally disabled person being collected. However, it was pointed out that mediated data collection should be addressed sectorally, as a doctor, for example, would address mediated data in a different manner than a company. It was emphasized that specific cases – such a parent taking a mediated decision on the data collection of his or her child – should be enabled, whereas all other cases should be prohibited. Thus it was recommended that language to address the mediated collection of data should be included in the Bill.

A participant raised the question of whether there should be seperate laws for the private collection of data and state collection of data. It was mentioned that this is the case in Canada. Another question which was raised was what happens when state collectors hire private contractors. The UID was brought as an example of state collection of data, while private contractors have been hired and are involved in the process of data collection. This could potentially enable the collection and access of data by unauthorised third parties, to which individuals may have not given their consent to. Thus it was strongly recommended that the Bill addresses such cases and prevents unauthorised collection and access of data.

The discussion on the collection of personal data ended with an interesting test case study for privacy: should the media have the right to disclose individuals' personal data? A debate revolved around this question and participants recommended that the Bill regulates the collection, processing, sharing, disclosure and retention of personal data by the media.

Retention of Personal Data

The discussion on the retention of personal data commenced with the statement that there are various exceptions to the retention of data in India, which are outlined in various court cases. It was pointed out that data should be retained in compliance with the law, but this is problematic as, in various occasions, a verbal order by a policeman can be considered adequate, but this can potentially increase the probability for abuse. A question which was raised was whether an Act of Parliament should allow for the long term storage of data, especially when there is inadequate data to support its long-term retention. It was pointed out that in some cases there are laws which allow for the storage of data for up to ten years, without the knowledge – let alone the consent – of the individual. Thus, the issue of data retention in India remains vague and should be addressed by the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013.

Questions were raised on the duration of data retention periods and on whether there should be one general data retention law or several sectoral data retention laws. The participants disagreed on whether an Act of Parliament should regulate data retention or whether data retention should be regulated by sectoral authorities. A participant recommended “privacy by design” and stated that the question of data retention should be addressed by data controllers. Other participants raised the question of purpose limitation, especially for cases when data is being re-retained after the end of its retention period. A participant recommended that requirements for the anonymisation of data once it has exceeed its retention period should be established. However, this proposal was countered by participants who argued that the pracitcal enforcement of the anonymisation of retained data is not feasible within India.

Destruction of Personal Data

The retention of personal data can be prevented once data has been destroyed. However, participants argued that various types of data are being collected through surveillance products which are controlled by private parties. In such cases, it was argued that it remains unclear how it will be verified that data has indeed being destroyed.

A participant argued that the main problem with data destruction is that even if data has been deleted, it can be retrieved up to seven times; thus the question which arises is how can individuals know if their data has been permanently destroyed, or if it is being secretly retrieved. Questions were raised on how the permanent retention of data can be prevented, especially when even deleted data can be retrieved. Hence it was recommended that information security experts cooperate with data controllers and the Privacy Commissioner, to ensure that data is permanently destroyed and/or that data is not being accessed after the end of its retention period. Such experts would ensure that data is actually being destroyed.

Another participant pointed out the difference between the wiping of data and the deletion of data. In particular, the participant argued that data is being deleted when it is being overwritten by other data, and can potentially be recovered. Wiping of data, on the other hand, involves the wiping out of data which can never be recovered. The participant recommended that the Bill explicitly states that data is wiped out in order to ensure that data is not being indirectly retained.

Processing of Personal Data

The dicsussion on the processing of personal data began with the question of national archives. In particular, participants argued that if the processing of data is strictly regulated, that would restrict access to national archives and the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 should address this issue.

Questions were raised on the non-consentual processing of personal data and on how individual consent should be acquired prior to the processing of personal data. It was pointed out that the Article 29 Working Party has published an Opinion on purpose limitation with regards to data processing and it was recommended that a similar approach is adopted in India.

Furthermore, it was stated that IT companies are processing data from the EU and the U.S., but it remains unclear how individual consent can be obtained in such cases. A debate evolved on how to bind foreign data processors to meet the data requirements of India, as a minimum prerequisite to ensure that outsourced data is not breached. In light of the Edward Snowden leaks of NSA surveillance, many questions were raised on how Indian data outsourced and stored abroad can be protected.

It was highlighted during the round table that all data processing in India requires certification, but since the enforceability of the contracts relies on individuals, this raises issues of data security. Moreover, questions were raised on how Indian companies can protect the data of their foreign data subjects. Thus, it was recommended that the processing of data is strictly regulated through the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 to ensure that outsourced data and data processed in the country is not breached.

Security of Personal Data

On the issue of data security, the participants argued that the data subject should always be informed in cases when the confidentiality of their personal data is violated. Confidentiality is usually contractually limited, whereas secrecy is not, which is why both terms are included in the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013. In particular, secrecy is usually used for public information, whereas confidentiality is not.

Participants argued that the Bill should include restrictions on the media, in order to ensure that the confidentiality and integrity of their sources' data is preserved. Several participants stated that the Bill should also include provisions for whistleblowers which would provide security and confidentiality for their data. The participants of the round table engaged in a debate on whether the media should be strictly regulated in order to ensure the confidentiality of their sources' data. On the one hand, it was argued that numerous data breaches have occured as a result of the media mishandling their sources' data. On the other hand, it was stated that all duties of secrecy are subject to the public interest, which is why the media reports on them and which is why the media should not be restricted.

Disclosure of Personal Data

The discussion on the disclosure of personal data commenced with participants pointing out that the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 does not include requirements for consent prior to the disclosure of personal data, which may potentially lead to abuse. Questions were raised on the outsourcing of Indian data abroad and on the consequences of its foreign disclosure. Once data is outsourced, it remains unclear how the lawful disclosure or non-disclosure of data can be preserved, which is why it was recommended that the Bill addresses such issues.

A participant argued that there is a binding relationship between the data controller and the data subject and that disclosure should be regulated on a contractual level. Another participant raised the question of enforcement: How can regulations on the disclosure of personal data be enforced? The response to this question was that the law should focus on the data controller and that when Indian data is being outsourced abroad, the Indian data controller should ensure that the data subjects' data is not breached. However, other participants raised the question of how data can be protected when it is outsourced to countries where the rule of law is not strong and when the country is considered inadequate in terms of data protection.

With an increased transnational flow of information, questions arise on how individuals can protect their information. A participant recommended that it should be mandatory for companies to state in their contracts who they are outsourcing data to and whether such data will be disclosed to third parties. However, this proposal as countered by a participant who argued that even if this was inforced, it is still not possible to enforce the rights of an Indian data subject in a country which does not have a strong rule of law or which generally has weak legislation. A specific example was mentioned, where E.G. Infosys and Wipro Singapore have a contractual agreement and Indian data is outsourced. It was pointed out that if such data is breached, it remains unclear if the individual should address this issue to Wipro India, as well as which law should apply in this case and whether companies should be liable.

A participant suggested that the data controller discloses data without having acquired prior consent, if the Government of India requests it. However, this was countered by a participant who argued that even in such a case, the question of regulating access to data still remains. Other participants argued that the Right to Information Act has been misused and that too much information is currently being disclosed. It was recommended that the Right to Information Act is amended and that the Bill includes strict regulations for the disclosure of personal data.

Meeting Conclusion

The fifth Privacy Round Table meeting commenced with a presentation on privacy and data protection by Mr. Reijo Aarnio, the Finnish Data Protection Ombudsman, and proceeded with a discussion of the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013. The participants engaged in a heated debate and provided recommendations for the definitions used in the Bill, as well as for the regulation of data protection. The recommendations for the improvement of the draft Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 will be considered and incorporated in the final draft.

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