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NCP MP Supriya Sule raises red flag on data security

The private sector may be granted access to select datatbases for commercial use, says the Economic Survey
NCP MP Supriya Sule speaks in the Lok Sabha during the budget session of Parliament on July 1.

The Telegraph   |   New Delhi   |   Published 04.07.19, 02:56 PM

Nationalist Congress Party leader Supriya Sule today drew attention in the Lok Sabha to a portion of the Economic Survey where the government has said the 'private sector may be granted access to select databases for commercial use'. 

The Economic Survey was tabled on Thursday by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

The debate today in the Lok Sabha was on the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019, promulgated by the President on March 2. The bill on this was passed in the Lok Sabha today. 

In a chapter in the Economic Survey titled Data “Of the People, By the People, For the People”, says: 'The private sector may be granted access to select databases for commercial use. Consistent with the notion of data as a public good, there is no reason to preclude commercial use of this data for profit. Undoubtedly, the data revolution envisioned here is going to cost funds. Although the social benefits would far exceed the cost to the government, at least a part of the generated data should be monetised to ease the pressure on government finances.'

After reading out this portion, Sule asked: “So, is there a problem with government’s money? Is that why you are selling data? If you are selling data, then this debate is completely meaningless.” 

The Economic Survey also says that 'datasets may be sold to analytics agencies that process the data, generate insights, and sell the insights further to the corporate sector, which may in turn use these insights to predict demand, discover untapped markets or innovate new products'. 

After reading out this section, the NCP MP said: “So, they are selling government data to corporate sectors. Shame! Shame! This is people’s data. Shame!” 

The common man is being cheated, Sule said, and asked IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad for a clarification. She warned that if the government did not protect citizens' information, India would become a police state.

Sule's point on data security resonated with BJD MP Pinaki Mishra’s comments on the ordinance. 

Mishra said that information and data is now the new oil of the 21st century. “Whoever controls information and data is going to be in this incredibly powerful position to control our lives,” he said.

The BJD leader gave the example of Chinese companies such as ByteDance, that owns TikTok and Helo apps, to claim that the country has a neighbour that is “hell bent in aggrandising data and information” from India. “We need protection from these kinds of egregious agencies which are otherwise going to create mayhem in this country,” Mishra said.

TikTok is a short video making app, and Helo is a social media platform.

Sule accused the BJP and the NDA of doublespeak on Aadhaar. Quoting the observations of the standing committee on finance (2011-12) on the National Identification Authority of India bill, Sule said the entire committee under Yashwant Sinha’s chairmanship objected to the bill.

“This [bill] will, they apprehend, make even illegal immigrants entitled to an Aadhaar number,” Sule quoted from the report.

She said the UK, US or Australia, none of these countries have such identification measures.

She also punctured Prasad’s claim that people willingly gave their Aadhaar number for nursery admissions. She said that today even if a child goes on a trip, the school asks for the Aadhaar card. “Why is the Aadhaar card compulsory? What is Voter ID then? We all have voters ID. I can’t really understand why Aadhaar card has to be used,” Sule said.

Toward the end of her speech she brought up what happened in Bihar recently. “Hundred and fifty children have not died because of litchi, they died because of malnutrition. If Aadhaar is so effective and you are serving lakhs of crores, how there are so many malnourished children in the country.... I’d like to request the government not to misuse our information. It is only going to become a police state if we don’t get our act together,' she said. 


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