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Junk calls' Just grin & bear ’em, law can’t help

New Delhi, Aug. 4: If you are planning to file a complaint about calls on your mobile or fixed line phone at odd hours from an unknown lady offering enticing baits to become a member of a credit card company or discount coupons, the chances are that you will never be able to win a case in Indian courts.

The brutal truth is that no one respects your privacy any more. Blame it on the fact that India does not have a tough data protection law.

Result: credit card companies, hotels and insurance companies are rummaging data bases across the country to get your number so that they can spam your phone with enticing offers.

Everyone’s involved in the data pillage: consumer electronic companies, local restaurants and call centres are all ferreting out your phone number from myriad sources.

Ever wondered how these people got hold of your mobile or fixed line phone number in the first place' It could have gone out from the innocuous looking form that you filled at the bank, credit card company, mobile operator or even at the hospital where you left your contact phone number.

The mobile numbers and other details about you have now become hot commodity.

“In India, we do not have any data protection law. There is need for such a law since the data would be of immense commercial value for the companies and government. It is a sad situation where the Information Technology Act, 2000 defines the word ‘data’ but is silent on data protection,” said Pavan Duggal, senior advocate and an expert on cyber law.

“Currently, in India, data protection issues are examined under privacy laws that are too inadequate,” added Duggal.

Personal data is very sensitive and can be misused by narrow religious outfits and by fly-by-night operators. Sensitive data can be classified as identification of racial and ethnic origin of an individual, political opinions, religious beliefs, membership of a trade union, physical or mental health conditions, sex life, criminal offences, criminal proceedings and convictions.

“We should adopt a data protection legislation similar to that in the UK. It is built around eight data protection principles that apply to all personal data processed by data controllers (of companies, businesses, organisations, employers, local and central government). They determine the purpose for which and the manner in which any personal data is, or is to be, processed,” said Vakul Sharma, advocate on cyber law.

The eight principles governing data protection in UK state that personal data shall be obtained and processed fai- rly and lawfully; be held only for lawful purposes, which are described in the register entry; be used or disclosed only for lawful or compatible purposes; be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose for which they are held; be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date; be held no longer than is necessary for the purpose for which they are held; be accessible to individuals it concerns, who may where appropriate, correct or erase it, and; be surrounded by proper security.

Communications minister Arun Shourie recently said, “We have formulated a draft on data protection and it will be circulated to the concerned ministries. We do not wish to hurry as the same is being examined by many countries in Europe.”

The exercise of tracking the movement of cellphone subscribers has, meanwhile, been successfully completed by cellular operators. This can be used to pump information about shopping or any other activity as and when the subscribers pass through a favourite place of their choice.

The minister of state for communications, Ashok Pradhan, recently said in Parliament that cellphone location service is not a tracker service to monitor the movement of the subscriber.

Sources in cellular mobile industry, however, said the same technology can be used to provide information about discount at a favourite shop when the subscriber is in that area.

“If a subscriber has given the name of a particular shopping plaza as his favourite, we can tie up with the shopping plaza and provide information when the subscriber is near that area. If we have the data, many value-added services can be offered,” said a senior executive of a leading cellular operator.

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