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Balancing Privacy and India's Data Act for a Digital Future



  Aug 21, 2023

Navigating India's Data Act: Balancing Digital Landscape and Privacy


Exploring the Intersection of Data Protection and State Control

In August 2017, a chilling assertion that the state refuses to forget its citizens even if they seek anonymity was firmly dismissed by the Supreme Court of India in the inaugural Puttaswamy decision. Fast forward to 2023, and the nation finds itself grappling with the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, also known as the Data Act. This legislation, far from safeguarding citizens, harbors provisions that undermine transparency and accountability, ultimately chipping away at the bedrock of these principles, as argued by experts.
 

Key Aspects and Implications of the Data Act:

A Stranglehold on Privacy: The Data Act exhibits a disregard for privacy concerns by mandating data submission without due safeguards. Rather than protecting individuals, the Act imposes fines on at-risk groups for incomplete or incorrect information, further eroding trust.
 
xpansion of State Control: The Act perpetuates a continuous expansion of state power, focusing on surveillance and data collection rather than genuine data protection. This aligns with a larger strategy of tethering citizens to a digital leash, in contrast to the original spirit of the Constitution.
 
Misplaced Trust in Technology: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's emphasis on technology as an empowerment tool reflects a misguided belief in techno-solutionism. This ideology seeks to solve complex issues through digital innovation, sidelining constitutional values and transformative change.
 
Digital Public Goods and Promises Broken: Initiatives like Aarogya Setu and Co-Win, though built with state resources, lack transparency and reliable delivery. The push for a "Smart Cities Mission" exemplifies this with its data-intensive approach, raising questions about its safety and efficacy.
 
Mass Surveillance and Erosion of Privacy: The Act's exceptions provide legal sanctity to projects that infringe on privacy rights. Initiatives like the "social media communications hub" and the "National Automated Facial Recognition System" prioritize mass surveillance over individual rights.
 
Rising Concerns of Authoritarianism: The Data Act's vagueness grants discretionary power to the government, allowing exemptions for specific companies and even the possibility of data sharing for economic gains. This closely resembles China's National Intelligence Law and hints at concentrated state control.
 
Warnings of Dystopia: Legal experts and dissenting judgments caution against the implications of such an Act. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud's reference to an Orwellian society fueled by biometric data underscores the grave portents of excessive surveillance and data control.
 
A Call for Constitutional Reboot: As the Data Act emerges as a tangible representation of digital authoritarianism, there's a pressing need for a comprehensive constitutional overhaul to counter this trend. Incremental changes or isolated rulemaking will not suffice; a broader reform is required to safeguard citizens' rights and dignity.


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