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Since 1st March, 1999
 
THE TELEGRAPH
 
 
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Personal data made public

Whenever you take a bank loan, you give a lot of personal information about your financial status to the lending agency. And you would expect it to honour the confidentiality of the information. Similarly, when you opt for a credit card, the company makes you fill up a long form requiring personal data. Here again, the information given by you is meant for a specific purpose and you expect the credit card company to respect your privacy and not share that information with anyone or use it to sell their other services or products.

But today, these privacy principles are being blatantly breached. You take a car loan and within a month or sometimes within a week, 10 different agencies call you up to sell some service or the other. How have they got your telephone number and personal details' From the bank that gave you a loan of course! Thanks to such rampant 'information sharing', consumers have no peace of mind. First of all, information that is very private and confidential gets passed on to others and no more remains private and confidential. Second, this information is used by telemarketeers to sell products and services, thereby intruding on your private space.

In May this year, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) expressed concern over this trend. Apparently, in August 2002, the RBI had instructed the banks to collect certain information about the customer at the time of opening an account, under the head 'Know your customer'. The requirement was meant to prevent financial frauds, use of banks for money laundering and for funding terrorist activities. However, the RBI noticed that while complying with this requirement, the banks were also collecting a lot of additional personal information and using it for purposes other than what the RBI had intended it to be.

The RBI reminded the chief executives of all commercial banks that the information provided by the customer was confidential and divulging any details thereof for cross-selling or any other purpose would constitute breach of customer confidentiality obligations. But obviously, the banks are not listening.

What consumers need today is a privacy law that protects such information and an agency that ensures that consumers' privacy is not breached. The Australian Federal Privacy Act , for example, provides protection of personal information handled by government agencies, private sector organisations, health service providers and credit providers. And one can complain to the Federal Privacy Commissioner for any violation of the law. We in India too need to have a similar law to protect consumers' privacy.

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