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RBI Consultation Paper on P2P Lending: Data Security and Privacy Concerns

On April 28, 2016 the Reserve Bank of India published a consultation paper on P2P Lending and invited comments from the public on the same. The Paper discusses what P2P lending is, the various regulatory practices that govern P2P lending in different jurisdictions and lists our arguments for and against regulating P2P lending platforms.

 

Arguments against Regulation

The arguments against regulation of P2p lending companies as set out in the paper are (briefly):

  1. Regulating an exempt or nascent sector may be perceived as rubber stamping the industry through regulation, thus lending credibility to the P2P lending which could attract ill informed lenders to the sector who may not understand all the risks associated with the industry. In this way Regulation may cause more harm than good.
  2. Regulations may also be perceived as too stringent, thus stifling the growth of an innovative, efficient and accessible industry.
  3. The P2P lending market is currently in a nascent stage and does not pose an immediate systemic risk meriting regulation.

 

Arguments in favour of Regulation

The arguments for regulating the market on the other hand are:

  1. Considering the significance of the online industry and the impact which it can have on the traditional banking channels/NBFC sector, it would be prudent to regulate this emerging industry.
  2. The, the importance of these methods of financing, specially in sectors where formal lending cannot reach, needs to be acknowledged.
  3. If the sector is left unregulated altogether, there is the risk of unhealthy practices being adopted by one or more players, which may have deleterious consequences.
  4. Section 45S of RBI Act prohibits an individual or a firm or an unincorporated association of individuals from accepting deposits “if its business wholly or partly includes any of the activities specified in clause (c) of section 45-I (i.e. activities of a financial institution); or if his or its principal business is that of receiving of deposits under any scheme or arrangement or in any other manner, or lending in any manner. Contravention of Section 45S is an offence punishable under section 58B (5A) of RBI Act. As per the Act, ‘‘deposit’’ includes and shall be deemed always to have included any receipt of money by way of deposit or loan or in any other form, but does not include any amount received from an individual or a firm or an association of individuals not being a body corporate, registered under any enactment relating to money lending which is for the time being in force in any State. Since the borrowers and lenders brought together by a P2P platform could fall within these prohibitions, absence of regulation may lead to perpetrating an illegality.”

After listing out the arguments, the paper adopts the approach of regulating this industry and proposes to bring P2P lending platforms under the purview of RBI’s regulation by defining them as Non Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) under section 45-I(f)(iii) of the RBI Act. Once notified as NBFCs, RBI can issue regulations under sections 45JA and 45L. Though there is scope to comment on many aspects of the consultation paper our comments here will be limited to the data security and privacy aspects of the recommendations.

 

Data Security and Privacy Concerns

While the understanding of potential borrowers, specially those who have had experiences with commercial financial institutions, is that the more amount of information they provide, the better their chances become of getting a loan. This perception emanates from the fact that any potential borrower is asked for a myriad of documents, including personally identifying documents before a request for a loan is considered, infact for almost all financial institutions it is part of their core prudential norms to ask for identity documents before disbursing a loan. Getting as much information as possible from the borrower is not just a quirk of the financial institutions but it makes business sense for them, since it is those institutions who bear the risk of recovery of their money. There is no reason why the same logic or allowing creditors all the information about the borrower should not be applicable to P2P lending platforms, as far as the principle of prudential business practices is concerned. However, the key difference between disclosing information to P2P lending platforms as opposed to financial institutions is that whilst the information supplied to financial institutions stays limited to the institution and its employees, a large amount of the information (though not necessarily all) given to P2P platforms is made available to all potential creditors, which in P2P lending translates to any internet user who registers as a potential creditor. In this way the potential for the information to reach a wider group of people is much higher and therefore privacy and data security risks require special attention in P2P lending.

In section 5.3(v) of the Paper it is recommended that “Confidentiality of the customer data and data security would be the responsibility of the Platform. Transparency in operations, adequate measures for data confidentiality and minimum disclosures to borrowers and lenders would also be mandated through a fair practices code.” Whilst the fair practices code has not yet been developed or at least not yet made publicly available, as companies in the P2P lending industry are body corporates, these fair practice codes  should be in line with and satisfy the requirements of section 43A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (“IT Act”) as well as the Guidelines issued by the RBI’s Guidelines on Information security, Electronic Banking, Technology risk management and cyber frauds [1].

The minimum standards for data protection in Indian law have been laid down by section 43A of the IT Act and the Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011 (“Rules”) issued under section 43A. As per Rule 4 of the Rules P2P platforms would be required to have a privacy policy to deal with sensitive personal data, which includes any details regarding financial information such bank account, credit/debit cards, etc [2].

This policy would have to be published on the website of the platforms and would provide for a number of things such as (i) Clear and easily accessible statements of its practices and policies; (ii) type of personal or sensitive personal data or information collected; (iii) purpose of collection and usage of such information; (iv) disclosure of information including sensitive personal data or information; (v) reasonable security practices and procedures for the data. The other requirements of the Rules as regards consent before usage of the information, collection limitations, imparting information/notice to the consumer (information provider), retention limitation, purpose limitation, opt-out option, disclosure, etc. will also be applicable to P2P platforms and the fair practices code that the RBI would issue for this purpose will have to take all these issues into account.

The Rules also provide that body corporates will be considered to have complied with reasonable security practices if they have implemented such security practices and standards and have a comprehensive documented information security programme and information security policies that contain managerial, technical, operational and physical security control measures that are commensurate with the information assets being protected with the nature of business. Although there are no such practices which have been endorsed by any governmental body for P2P lending platforms, however the Department of Banking Supervision, Reserve Bank of India, has issued guidelines on “Information security, Electronic Banking, Technology risk management and cyber frauds" [3]. which could be relied upon until a fair practices code is put into place. The major privacy and data security provisions of these guidelines are given below:

  • Security Baselines: The guidelines require banks to be proactive in identifying and specifying the minimum security baselines to be adhered to by the service providers to ensure confidentiality and security of data;
  • Back up records: A cloud computing system must ensure backup of all its clients' information;
  • Security steps: An institution may take the following steps to ensure that risks with respect to confidentiality and security of data are adequately mitigated: (i) Address, agree, and document specific responsibilities of the respective parties in outsourcing; (ii) Discuss and agree on the instances where customer data shall be accessed; (iii) Ensure that service provider employees are adequately aware and informed on the security and privacy policies.
  • Confidentiality: Agreements should provide for maintaining confidentiality of customer's information even after the contract expires or is terminated by either party and specify the liability in case of security breach or leakage.
  • Encryption: Normally, a minimum of 128-bit SSL encryption is expected. Banks should only select encryption algorithms which are well established international standards.
  • Fraud Risk Management: It is also necessary that customer confidential information and other data/information available with banks is secured adequately to ensure that fraudsters do not access it to perpetrate fraudulent transactions.

Although inclusion of the above principles in the fair practices code would be helpful, however since the workings of P2P platforms are quite unique, therefore it would be counterproductive to restrict the security and privacy protocols to only those applied to regular banking transactions and the fair practices code should take into account these unique problems of P2P lending rather than seek to apply the existing norms blindly.

 

Endnotes

[1] See: https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/content/PDFs/GBS300411F.pdf.

[2] The Rules define “sensitive personal data or information” as information relating to: "(i) password, (ii) financial information such as Bank account or credit card or debit card or other payment instrument details, (iii) physical, physiological and mental health condition, (iv) sexual orientation, (v) medical records and history, (vi) Biometric information, (vii) any detail relating to the above clauses as provided to body corporate for providing service, and (viii) any of the information received under above clauses by body corporate for processing, stored or processed under lawful contract or otherwise."

[3] See: http://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/content/PDFs/GBS300411F.pdf.

 

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