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Activists welcome privacy Bill, but point out concerns

by Prasad Krishna last modified Apr 02, 2011 11:42 AM
Experts have welcomed the government's move to bring in a law for protecting individual privacy, amid concerns about the potential misuse of personal data it is collecting to execute social welfare and security schemes.

But they warn that overlaps with existing laws, a limited consultation process and failure to keep up with technological advances could undercut the utility of the planned legislation.

The Union government has set up a panel of secretary-level officials to prepare a blueprint for a law to protect individual privacy and personal data from misuse, even by the government, Mint reported on Monday.

The government is collecting personal data to operate schemes such as Aadhaar--a project to provide numeric identity cards to all residents, and the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid), which will track information obtained by 11 law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

These agencies can access details of phone calls, credit card transactions, visa, immigration and property records, and driving licences of all citizens, as well as their iris and thumb-prints.

Lawrence Liang, a lawyer who works with Bangalore-based Alternative Law Forum, said the planned law will check the manner in which private companies use the personal data of citizens.

"Currently, there are only private contracts between individuals and companies on how personal data is used. With this legislation, the individual is more empowered. The state can back him better in case of a dispute," he said.

Sunil Abraham, executive director of the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society, which has protested Aadhaar's project structure, also welcomed the move.

"The privacy Bill guidelines are fairly broad. It is early days yet. Their will be a large overlap between the privacy and Aadhaar Bills," he said.

Faking biometric data, for instance, isn't a violation of privacy in the proposed law but could be criminally cognizable under the Aadhaar Bill, Abraham said. "It will be interesting to see how these issues are tackled as there are several nuances and grey areas."

A scientist at the Institute for Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi said new kinds of privacy issues will emerge because of the imminent rise of bioinformatics applications.

There are no products or applications today that rely solely on biometric information to breach individual privacy, he said, requesting anonymity.

"But within five years, it will be easier to collect biometric information and link it to other details such as credit card information and driving licence numbers on a large scale. There could then be issues of privacy that will emerge," he added.

Leo Saldanah, coordinator at the Bangalore-based Environment Support Group and another critic of Aadhaar, said the planned privacy Bill is a sham.

"Privacy is anyway enumerated in our constitutional rights under Article 21. But governments have anyway accessed information via phone taps unencumbered," he said. "I don't think the existence of legislation per se will change matters on the ground."

Link to the article on DailyMe

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