Indian Cyber Space and Privacy: Legal Perspective

What is so great about these internet companies that they, provide consumer’s/user’s access to their services so easily and usually that too for no apparent charges at all?

As an internet strong market, Indian citizens or users from India are on the grid of all internet companies. Besides as was evident from recently concluded general elections, trends of marketing – aptly, targeted marketing were no different in election canvassing from product promotions of small or big products.

In fact, lately, a huge amount of attention has been paid to government snooping, and the bulk collection and storage of vast amounts of raw data in the name of national security. Even state run programs like National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) Project of India, Central Monitoring System (CMS) Project of India, Internet Spy System Network and Traffic Analysis System (NETRA) of India, Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS) etc. working amidst total absence of legal framework for enabling enforcement of such program seems not appropriate as per law. But even with equitable legislation it would be a direct infringement of Article 21 of the Constitution of India and thus, such programs have been a part of sharp criticism for being a direct attack on personal privacy of individuals.

What most of the internet users don’t know, or are just beginning to realize, is that a much greater and more immediate threat to their privacy is coming from thousands of companies which have never been heard of, in the name of e-commerce.

Popularly known as data brokers they are collecting, analyzing and packaging some of the user’s most sensitive personal information and selling it as a commodity not only to each other or advertisers, even to the government, often without the user’s direct knowledge.

Much of this is the kind of harmless consumer marketing that’s been going on for decades. What has changed is the volume and nature of the data being mined from the internet and our mobile devices, and the growth of a multi-billion dollar industry that operates in the shadows with virtually no oversight. In light of the scenarios as described above, one peculiar point that emanates is the potential, scope and actual market that stands on behavioral trends and characteristics of an individual user.

With awareness and activeness on a rise very much like other countries, demands to ensure privacy rights in India has significantly increased lately. In consideration of this, a new privacy package that included various new rules that apply to companies and consumers was passed in June 2011.

Previously, vide the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 the following two sections relating to Privacy were added to the Information Technology Act, 2000:

Section 43A, which deals with implementation of reasonable security practices for sensitive personal data or information and provides for the compensation of the person affected by wrongful loss or wrongful gain.

Section 72A, which provides for imprisonment for a period up to 3 years and/or a fine up to Rs. 5,00,000 for a person who causes wrongful loss or wrongful gain by disclosing personal information of another person while providing services under the terms of lawful contract.

A very important aspect of the new rules necessitates that any organization that processes personal information must obtain written consent from the data subjects before undertaking certain activities. However in absence of proper awareness and know-how of enforcement agencies, application and affectivity of such provisions is still a matter of debate.

In absence of dedicated privacy and data protection laws which has been interpreted by Indian Supreme Court in light of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution in a number of judgments not only Indian enforcement system is incapable of  protecting civil liberties in cyberspace, the factum of poor privacy legislations is also an established fact.

As explained above not only do we need a series of national and international  introspection sessions to combat and restrict this behaviour but we also have to align  internet related commerce in an ethical and pro humane manner.

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