TRAI’s Framework for Data Centres, Interconnect Exchanges and Content Delivery Networks- An Update

Communication services such as voice, video, data, internet, and wideband multimedia have become indispensable in the modern society. Information communication technology (ICT) has become a vital resource in development of various economic sectors enabling the various participants in economic and social spheres to have a quick and easy access to information and knowledge. ICT makes communication efficient in all spheres of life- in companies fostering increased efficiency, allowing access to human resource, promoting sustainable development of entrepreneurship.

At present, most sectors and organizations are generating mountains of data on a daily basis. Therefore, to stay competitive, organizations are constantly working to optimize data to leverage it to their advantage. For instance, the banking sector uses data extensively to understand how their customers use data to identify potential security risks. Data plays a vital role in the real estate and property management sector by extending an improved property analysis mechanism, understanding the customers and deciphering the market trends. The telecom industry is also utilizing data to improve in several key service areas, including customer experience, fraud reduction, churn prediction, and dynamic pricing. Further, with the rollout of 5G, data plays a key role in network planning, monitoring and management. Hence, data is the central force for driving crucial innovative and advanced industry solutions for the systematic growth of the economy.

Digital advances have generated enormous wealth in record time, but that wealth has been concentrated around a small number of individuals, companies and countries. Under current policies and regulations, this trajectory is likely to continue, further contributing to rising inequality, not only at the country level between developed and developing economies but also at the level of big online players, controlling data acting as an entry barrier for new entrants, leading to near monopoly in global digital markets. The effect of globalization and the development of the telecommunication sector has also affected the Indian market vitally.

On 21 December 2021 TRAI- the Telecommunication Authority of India released a consultation paper on the ‘Regulatory Framework for Promoting Data Economy through Establishment of Data Centres, Content Delivery Networks, and Interconnect Exchanges in India’ where it discussed and opined thoroughly on the markets of data economy, its challenges and its growth and future opportunities in the sector.


The TRAI Consultation Paper and Data Centres  

 

The new era of digitization has rolled out 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) leading to the creation of data via widespread, geographically distributed networks and new-age devices. Further, Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC), and Massive Machine Type Communications (MMTC) are set to emerge as dominant storage interfaces. 5G, along with edge computing, is set to fulfil the needs for ultra-reliable, low-latency, and high-throughput communication. Use cases driven by this intelligence-centric connectivity will catalyse computing at the edge as they effectively become mini data centres and bring a completely new paradigm to storage at the edge. This brings with it a need for advanced networking, computing and storage in edge devices and endpoints.

The main theme of the TRAI consultation paper is the development of a regulatory framework to make the data market more abiding and regulated for systematic development and protection of its users. While competing with the world data economy the need for a proper regulatory framework that can encourage the development of 5G, IoT, data centres, and associated services, data analytics, edge computing, digital platforms, and applications were discussed and their effect on the growth are discussed in the paper.  For any economy to be competitive, it has become essential to become reliable and self-sufficient in terms of futuristic technology. This has bought the Indian government’s inaction to bring in various initiatives and policies to bring digitalisation to the forefront of the market. Policies like Digital India Programme 2015 and National Digital Communication Policy 2018 contributed tremendously to the development and population of the data economy and digitalization.

The TRAI paper clearly emphasized and questioned the potential of growth of data centres in India in light of various challenges in terms of economic/infrastructure and financial aspects. The paper sought views on:

(i) incentives and long-term measures to facilitate growth and investment in data centres, Content Delivery Networks (“CDN”s), and Interconnect Exchanges (“IXP”s).

(ii) building, safety, disaster recovery, and security standards for data centres.

(iii) access to facilities such as dedicated fibre and electricity, and provision of concessional tariffs or subsidies.

(iv) need for a unified data centre policy in India and centre-state coordination.

(v) need for a regulatory framework for CDN and interconnect exchanges in India.

Additionally, it was noted in the paper that the mere establishment of data centres will not efficiently meet the country’s data requirements.  Initiatives to address challenges of data penetration in Tire 2 and Tire 3 cities also has to be addressed. The paper also discussed and opened itself to comments on the green data certification, building norms for data centres and other aspects important for the development of an economically efficient data economy. The paper further discusses the impact of Covid-19 on the digital economy that resulted in a data surge arising out of increased digital social interactions and online transactions.


The Infrastructure of the Data Economy

 

The paper recognises the following three main infrastructures for boosting the data ecosystem and facilities

  • Data Centres
  • Content Delivery Networks
  • Internet Exchange Points

Together these three form the part of what can be termed as “Digital communication infrastructure and services”. It is important to note that with CDN the delivery of the data sought by the users is established and the players like Netflix, Youtube and Amazon establish their own CDN  in locations that are near to users to make the use of the internet bandwidth less which ultimately reduces the cost and make it more economical for them. These CDN networks are not adequately regulated in the Indian market. TRAI with the consultation paper has sought opinions on the same and has also highlighted the point of whether the lack of a regulatory framework for these CDN networks in India affects the growth of the CDN market in the country.

The main mission of the paper was to connect India with proper digital communication infrastructure, propel India with the latest technology including 5G, AI, IoT Cloud, and empower India by securing its digital sovereignty and data protection.

The consultation paper further analysed the idea of the dark fibre cable network, data centre and the regulatory framework or other limitations these data centre companies are facing and how these avenues can be incentivised. 


Infrastructure Requirements for Data Centres

 

The paper discussed the resources which are required for the establishment of the data centres and how their availability or shortage can add to the hardships of the establishment of economical units of the data centre. While opting for and establishing a data centre it’s essential to look into the availability of the power supply and water. India faces an energy deficit of 1,44,1 Million Units (MU). The most affected areas are the rural areas in India. The cost of power can also not be overlooked. The major cost which is approximately 50-60% of the total operating cost of these data centres is the cost of power. The power and cooling segment of the Indian Data Centre power and cooling market is expected to reach $1,065.5 million by 2025, growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 9.4% during the forecast period 2019–2025. 

Water resources were another facility for which data centres might face challenges. The major work of the water is to cool off. As per the report around 15- megawatt of energy in a Data Centre can use up to 360,000 gallons of water a day as the scale of the data centre will rise more reliable sources of water has to be looked into. In the process of cooling off some amount of water is also evaporated leading to loss of water. The question which arose is whether India is ready to meet these power and water supply requirements for the establishment of a highly popularizing segment of data centres. This remains a question of concern to meet the cooking up future requirements

Looking into the matter the TRAI suggested developing renewable energy and development of green data centres. In Europe, the climate-Neutral Data Centre pact is the law that aims to make all of the European Union Climate-neutral by 2050. These green data centres will have low emission rates. A vision to create such data centres and emphasis on the establishment of data centres driven by renewable energy was also emphasised.


Telecom Data and its Security Issues


 

Telecom data is the first digital footprint created by any household. For proper functioning of the services collecting such user data and establishing robust infrastructure for the services providers to proffer better services becomes very essential. For this, the mechanisms of the consented sharing of telecom data and data empowerment and protection Architecture were explained in the paper.

Even though the intention of the Personal Data Protection (Bill) 2019 was to extend legislative protection to users wherein purpose-driven collection of data, user consent to sharing of personal data etc. were addressed, it is yet to be seen how the law progresses in the future. 


Telecom Industry and the OTT Platforms

 

The functioning of the telecom industry and its importance and assistance in the development of Over the Top (OTT) platforms like ‘Netflix’, ‘Amazon’, ‘Hotstar’ can be understood easily. The telecom industry provides the oil to these OTT industry players for smooth functioning and better market reach. In the recent paper released by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) on the market study of the telecom sector, it highlighted the raising trends of a partnership between the telecom Industry and these platforms and how this can act as an entry barrier. 


CCI’s Concern over the Growth of the Telecom Market and its Nexus with TRAI

 

The market study of the telecom sector released by the CCI on 22nd January 2021, highlighted various contemporary competition issues, including upcoming competition issues as the telecom sector is set to see further transformation and innovations with 5G around the corner, discussing:

(a) Financial stability and competition

(b) Vertical integration and competition.

(c) Data privacy and competition.

(d) Infrastructure and competition.

The CCI raised concerns over the data privacy of the users from deals like Jio- Facebook, where the users are robbed of their right to data privacy. Raising concerns of such kind in its study, the TRAI also channelized its discussions on similar lines in its paper where a huge threat to the data privacy of the users was discussed and a strong need to regulate and limit the data sharing and purpose-driven data collection was identified. 


Regulatory Framework for the Data Centres, Current Scenario and the Way Forward

 

A strong surge in the consumption of data has been projected for the coming years. This massive increase in the use of data shall require a robust mechanism for data management, data security, and good data infrastructure. However, India still lacks a centralized regulatory framework that properly regulates or prescribes compliance standards with respect to the establishment of such data centres. This consultation paper by TRAI is the first concrete step in this direction.

The paper received comments from various significant stakeholders. While addressing the issue of data penetration at Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, Vodafone Idea Limited (‘VIL’), one of the stakeholders, suggested that the Government should extend tax benefits to Service Providers that are building disaster recovery sites to ensure reliable services. Development of Special Economic Zones (‘SEZ’) in TIER 2 & 3 cities should be undertaken to motivate data centre players, rationalization of electricity tariffs across all states and ready infrastructure facilities inclusive of power, transport, water supply, fibre connectivity etc. should be set up in those Tier 2 & 3 cities. VIL further observed that a central law governing data construction and operation should address aspects relating to the entire lifecycle of data centres. Since the National Broadcasting Company (‘NBC’) covers maximum data centre related guidelines, it is recommended to form a single regulatory body under NBC, which should develop India-specific building standards for the construction of data centres operating in India.

Internet freedom foundation, another stakeholder, has also provided its comments and suggestions on the considerations raised in the Paper. The foundation advocated the urgent need for the creation of a multi-stakeholder body for the enforcement of net neutrality. The need for a more efficient data policy specifically designed for the telecom industry was also put forward promoting evidence-based policymaking for the CDNs. In order to ensure a more streamlined functioning of the telecom industry, the foundation emphasized overall sectoral transparency. It raised concerns over data monetization and its threats. Additionally, it placed stress on proper surveillance of these data centres as sensitive data of users would be involved.

The National Association of Software and Service Companies (‘NASSCOM’) in their comments on the paper focused on the development of the CDN market and its growth potential in India. NASSCOM raised concerns over regulatory compliances that can potentially make the Indian CDN market less competitive and advised on initiating strategies to combat the same. It also raised concerns over the reduced network efficiency because of the regulatory requirement of interconnection with Telecom Service Provider (TSP) and Internet Service Providers (ISP) and network neutrality. It opined that both will be affected negatively by the criteria proposed by the paper. It urged TRAI to refrain from imposing ex-ante obligations for mandatory interconnection between CDNs and ISPs.

With all these regulatory challenges the stakeholders also provided their point of view on the issues and challenges of the data centres, from advocating for the establishment of special economic zones and providing some tax benefits for the establishment of the data centres to the need for proper authority for the certification of the data centre as adopted globally has been highlighted. The stakeholders also highlighted the portions wherewith not much effort skilled labour can be found and up-gradation of the existing skills can be done. Data privacy matters took the spotlight in almost all the stakeholders’ comments. They advocated for the implementation of a comprehensive law to deal with the matter at hand. Further, on compliance, the stakeholders emphasized structuring an all-encompassing competent channel for the use and availability of the resources such as power, land, and water for smooth functioning of the data centres.

In 2020, Singapore imposed a moratorium on the establishment of the data centres because of the disparity in the use of resources by 7%. India is already facing challenges in sustainable development and is aiming to become a global hub for data centres, without a practical mechanism in place. It is interesting to note that, states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have formulated their policy on the same. They have also sought amendments in the state legislations to incorporate congenial provisions for the establishment of the data centres but until now no steps have been taken.

As per some of the suggestions, in addition to notifying a national policy on data centres, the government should also identify and proffer various incentives for the players keen on undertaking the establishment of such data centres, especially with respect to considerations like electricity, water resources, infrastructure, technology and Research and Development. Before formulating and enforcing anything it’s evident for the government to into consideration all the aspects of labour, resources, real estate etc. before devising a perfectively addresses the challenges of the sector and works in concert towards the benefits of its stakeholders.

In 2020 the Ministry of Information Technology formulated a Data Centre Policy, 2020 discussing the challenges and how a centralised system for clearance and approval for the establishment of data centres has to be structured and new building norms specifically dealing with the construction of the data centres are to be developed. More stress on a smooth regulatory framework for ease of doing business was emphasised.

While the central government is yet to formulate comprehensive legislation to govern data centres, various state governments have undertaken the initiative to regulate the sector within their jurisdiction.

Maharashtra’s Data policy extends fiscal incentives such as stamp duty exemption, electricity duty exemption, value-added-tax refund and property tax benefits for data centres that comply with specific criteria. 

Telangana’s Policy extends fiscal incentives like power, building fee rebates and land at subsidized costs. Additionally, other non-fiscal incentives like exemption from the purview of the Telangana Pollution Control Act, exemption from statutory power cuts and from inspection under specified labour legislation and permissions to file self-certificates have also been offered.

The Tamil Nadu Data Centre Policy 2021 has established a single-window facilitation portal to maintain time-bound processing of applications and coordination with various agencies and departments. Further, incentives such as electricity tax subsidies on power, concessional open access charges and cross-subsidies, dual power and stamp duty concessions and permits for self-certificates pertaining to compliance with respect to statutory registrations and forms under respective labour legislation are provided. 

The Data Centre Policy 2021 of Uttar Pradesh provides incentives with respect to data centre park developers and data centre units. Interest/capital subsidy, land subsidy, stamp duty exemptions and dual power grid network, as well exemption from inspection under labour legislation and permissions to file self-certificates have also been provided for under the legislation.

West Bengal data centre policy 2021 is a 5-year plan providing various power, water and infrastructure facility for the smooth functioning of the data centres. 

Haryana and Karnataka are still finalising their state policy while the Odisha government has also rolled out a policy that needs further development and the status of its implementation is not yet confirmed.

As per some of the suggestions of the stakeholders, in addition to notifying a national policy on data centres, the government should also identify and proffer various incentives for the players keen on undertaking the establishment of such data centres especially with respect to considerations like electricity, water resources, infrastructure, technology and Research and Development. Before formulating and enforcing anything it’s evident for the government to into consideration all the aspects of labour, resources, real estate etc. before devising a perfectively addresses the challenges of the sector and works in concert towards the benefits of its stakeholders.

 

Image Credits: Photo by Ian Battaglia on Unsplash

A strong surge in the consumption of data has been projected for the coming years. This massive increase in the use of data shall require a robust mechanism for data management, data security, and good data infrastructure. However, India still lacks a centralized regulatory framework that properly regulates or prescribes compliance standards with respect to the establishment of such data centres. This consultation paper by TRAI is the first concrete step in this direction.

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IS17428 -A New Privacy Assurance Standard in India

Recently, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd (ABFR) faced a major data breach on its e-commerce portal. As per the reports, personal information of over 5.4 million users of the platform was made public. The 700 GB data leak included personal customer details like order histories, names, dates of birth, credit card information, addresses and contact numbers. Additionally, details like salaries, religion, marital status of employees were also leaked.  Forensic and data security experts were pro-actively engaged to implement the requisite damage-control measures and launch a detailed investigation into the matter.[1] This demonstrates the need to have wider awareness and establish standardized protocols for personal data management. 

The battle of data protection and privacy currently stands at a juxtaposition with a flourishing data economy. 2021 was a watershed moment in the privacy & data protection dialogue in the country. The need for comprehensive data protection law was louder than ever and there were major initiatives on the legislative and executive front.

In June of 2021, the Bureau of India Standards (BIS) introduced IS 17428 for data privacy assurance. It is a privacy framework designed for organisations to handle the personal data of individuals that they collect or process. The certification provided by BIS for IS 17428 can be deemed as an assurance extended to the customers/users by the organizations of well-implemented privacy practice. The BIS being a statutorily created standard-setting body of our country will bring some welcome change in our data management.  

IS 17428 is divided into 2 parts[2]:

  • Part 1 deals with the Management and Engineering parameters that are mandatory for an organization to comply with. This part provides for establishing and cultivating a competent Data Privacy Management System.
  • Part 2 deals with the Engineering and Management guidelines which enable the implementation of Part 1. These guidelines are not mandatory in nature but a reference framework for an organization to implement good practices internally.

 

The Context – Privacy & Data Protection laws in India

 

The Data protection bill was expected to be tabled in parliament back in 2019 but was postponed due to the ongoing pandemic. The country was hoping to pass the bill last year, however, it was sent to the Joint Parliament Committee (JPC) for perusal. The JPC made its report on the bill public in the month of December 2021.

Also, Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011 had been implemented back in 2011, primarily to safeguard the sensitive personal data of individuals that are collected, processed, transferred, or stored by any organisation and enumerate security practices. The rule lays down certain practices and procedures to be followed by a stakeholder while dealing with sensitive personal data. International Standard IS/ISO/IEC 27001 is one such acceptable standard.

Later ISO27701 was specifically introduced that focused on Privacy Information Management.  However, our Indian enactment has not specifically endorsed any such standards though Standards formulated by the industry association that is approved and notified by the Central Government are also deemed appropriate.  In this background, BIS introducing a standard is a welcome initiative as it will help in bringing uniformity in terms of the implementation of privacy practices across Indian industries.

Components of Part 1 of IS 17428[3]

 
Development of Privacy Requirements:

While developing the privacy requirements of the organisation in relation to the data collected or processed, the organisation has to take into consideration various factors such as jurisdiction, statutory requirements and business needs.

Personal Data Collection and Limitation:

The organisation is permitted to collect the personal information of the individuals, provided the same has been consented to by such individuals.

Privacy notice: 

The organisation is bound to provide a notice to individuals while collecting information from them and when such collection is through an indirect method employed by the organisation, then it is the duty of the former to convey by the same in an unambiguous and legitimate means.

The contents of a privacy notice at the minimum should include the following[4]:

  • Name and Address of the entity collecting the personal data
  • Name and Address of the entity retaining the personal data, if different from above
  • Types and categories of personal data collected
  • Purpose of collection and processing
  • Recipients of personal data, including any transfers
Choice and Consent:

As mentioned earlier, while collecting information, the organisation should get the consent of the individual at the initiation of the process while offering such individuals the choice of the information that they consent to disclose. This entire process should be done in a lawful manner and according to the privacy policies implemented by the organisation.

Data Accuracy: 

The data collected by the organisation should be accurate, and in case it is inaccurate, it should be corrected promptly.

Use Limitation: 

The data collected by the organisation should be used for the legitimate purpose for which it was agreed upon and it shall not be used for any other purposes.

Security: 

The organisation should implement a strict security program to ensure that the information collected is not breached or compromised in any manner.

Data Privacy Management System: 

The organisation is required to establish a Data Privacy Management System (DPMS). The DPMS shall act as a point of reference and baseline for the organisation’s privacy requirements/objectives.

Privacy Objectives: 

The privacy objective of the organisation shall be fixed and set out by the organisation itself. While determining the objectives the organisation shall also look into various factors such as the nature of business operations involving the GDPR processing of personal information, the industry domain, type of individuals, the extent to which the processed information is outsourced and the personal information collected. Moreover, the organisation shall also ensure that the objectives are in alignment with its privacy policy, business objectives and the geographical distribution of its operations.

Personal Data Storage Limitation: 

The organisation shall be allowed to retain the information collected from the individual only for a specific time period as required by the law or the completion of the purpose for which it was collected in the first place. The individual shall have the right to delete their personal information from the organisation database upon request.

Privacy Policy: 

The organisation shall create and implement a privacy policy that shall determine the scope and be applicable to all its business affiliates. The senior management of the organisation shall be in charge of the data privacy function. Moreover, the privacy policy should be in consonance with the privacy objectives of the organisation.

Records and Document Management

The organisation shall keep a record of its processing activities which shall, in turn, ensure responsibility towards the compliance of data privacy. The possible way to achieve such a standard is to lay out procedures that help to identify various records. While laying out procedures, the organisation shall take into consideration certain factors such as a record of logs that demonstrate affirmative action and options chosen by individuals on privacy consent and notice, evidence of capture events related to access or use of personal information, and retention period of obsolete documents.

Privacy Impact Assessment: 

A privacy impact assessment shall be carried out by the organisation from time to time. Such an assessment shall help in estimating the changes and the impact that they can possibly have on the data privacy of the individuals.

Privacy Risk Management

The organisation shall put in place and document a privacy risk management methodology. The methodology shall determine how the risks are managed and how the risks are kept at an acceptable level.

Grievance Redress:  

A grievance redressal mechanism shall be established by the organisation to handle the grievances of the individuals promptly. The organisation shall ensure that the contact information of the grievance officer shall be displayed or published and that they have the channel of receiving complaints from the individuals. Moreover, the organisation shall also make it clear as to the provision for escalation and appeal and the timelines for resolution of the grievance.

Periodic Audits: 

The organisation shall conduct periodic audits for the data privacy management system. The audit shall be conducted by an independent authority competent in data privacy, internal or external to the organization, at a periodicity appropriate for the organization, at least once a year.

Privacy Incident Management: 

Privacy breaches and data privacy incidents shall be reported regularly and the organisation shall come up with a mechanism to manage such incidents. The process shall involve identifying the incident at the first stage and investigating the root cause, preparing analysis and correcting the incidents in the second stage. The last stage is basically informing the key stakeholders including Data Privacy Authority about the breach or incident.

Data Subject’s Request Management: 

The organisation shall develop a mechanism to respond to requests from individuals concerning their personal data. This process shall include the means to verify the identity of the individual, provision access to the information and the means to update the information.

 

How IS 17428 would help in Privacy and Data Protection? 

 

The Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011 (RSPP and SPDI rules) had been the only law for organisations to follow. The rules did not prescribe or detail any specific requirements or standards in relation to personal data management and in the absence of formulated standards for the protection of the sensitive personal data of individuals, industry bodies were struggling to have uniform procedures. 

This being the case, introducing specific standards for personal data management will bring more clarity and will help companies to adhere to an approved standard prescribed by a government agency. Moreover, principles narrated in this standard are in accordance with the Internationally recognised privacy principles and will help Indian companies to proffer confidence when dealing with their commercial counterparts.

Introduction of record and document management, risk assessment and data subject request management are a few of the aspects that bring onerous responsibilities on companies making them more accountable and transparent.  These aspects have laid down procedures and mechanisms for an organisation to improve their privacy management, for example, introducing processes such as verification of identity, access to information, evidence of capture events of consent and retention period of obsolete documents.

 

The proposed data protection legislation and the IS 17428

 

The IS 17428 standard has been inspired primarily from the principles dictated from OECD privacy principles, GDPR and ISO27701. The proposed data protection legislation on the other hand has many divergences from the above instruments in many respects. For Instance, the IS standard has an elaborate description provided for the privacy objective of the organisation and the factors that need to be taken into account. Most of these objectives are covered under Sections 22 and 23 of the draft Bill but nevertheless, the standard has recommended a few other factors such as geographical operation, industrial domain and type of individuals as specific factors to be taken into consideration while drafting the privacy objectives. How much discretionary privacy standards can be created, what is allowed freedom for industries in this regard is unclear.

Section 28 of the draft bill talks about the records and document management of the data collected or processed and the standard covers almost every bit of the section. In addition to the consideration mentioned under the bill, the standard goes forward and echoes the need to establish a policy on the preservation of obsolete policies and process documents. Data and record-keeping should be for a defined period. The majority of other legislation prescribes an average of 7 years of data-keeping. Keeping any data beyond such a reasonable period may not serve many purposes. Why this standard has prescribed such obsolete data retention is again unclear.

The standard could be made effective by only having an enactment for data protection legislation in place. For instance, the grievance redressal mechanism, though the standards do envisage an appeal mechanism, they do not establish appeal machinery. This part of the standard can be put to use only after the Data Protection Authority as per section 32 is constituted. The standard also calls for an investigative process in the event of any breach or compromise of data. The organisation is welcome to conduct an onsite or internal investigation into the breach or incidents, but once again an independent authority to investigate in a legitimate and fair manner is required.

In short, I am afraid, has it failed to take into account the special requirements contemplated under the PDPB, 2019 which may eventually become the law of the country thereby, once this law is enacted, this standard will also be required to be modified. The government has not made any announcement as per the RSPP and SPDI rules, that IS 17428 is an appropriate standard certifying the compliance of personal data management. In the absence of such explicit endorsement, the ambiguity continues as to whether the adoption of this standard is sufficient compliance under the said rules.

Finally, with the Data protection bill around the corner, the Data Protection Authority envisaged being constituted under the legislation which shall have the power to issue code, guidelines, and best practices for protecting the privacy of data subjects. How IS 17428 standards framed by the BIS will be looked at by the DPA or the proposed rule will offer a different set of practices shall be an interesting development to observe.

References:

[1] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/cons-products/fashion-/-cosmetics-/-jewellery/abfrl-faces-data-breach-on-its-portal/articleshow/88930807.cms

[2] The IS 17438 was established on November 20, 2020 and notified in the official gazette on December 4, 2020. Please see the notification available at: https://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2020/223869.pdf (last visited Jan 18, 2022).

[3] Supra note 2.

[4] Sub-clause 4.2.2 of the IS Requirements: “Privacy Notice”.

 

 

Photo Credits:

Image by Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay 

Introduction of record and document management, risk assessment and data subject request management are a few of the aspects that bring onerous responsibilities on companies making them more accountable and transparent.  These aspects have laid down procedures and mechanisms for an organisation to improve their privacy management, for example, introducing processes such as verification of identity, access to information, evidence of capture events of consent and retention period of obsolete documents.

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Non-Personal Data Governance Framework, 2020

The realm of the internet has become an information powerhouse and data has become the new endowment of resources that governments and corporate entities are eager to tap into. The transformation in the digital environment and the emergence of information-intensive services has made data a necessary raw material for most undertakings.

Reports suggest that every minute Instagram is flooded with 277,000 stories, Google has 4.4 million searches and Uber has over 9700 rides in 2019. Today, data is an asset to various businesses and holds importance while making investments, mergers, and acquisitions, and/ or direct monetization.

 

While the discussion on ‘personal data’ has been revolving around privacy and security concerns, non-personal data is being eyed as an economic opportunity to augment public or private interest which must not be squandered. Considering the value proposition attributed to non-personal data, the legal aspect was sought to be dealt separately from ‘personal data’ which would be governed by the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 that is in the brink of finalization.

 

Consequently, an Expert Committee (“Committee“) was constituted by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (“MeitY“) to study various issues relating to non-personal data. The Committee submitted its Report on Non-personal Data Governance Framework for comments from stakeholders in July 2020.

 

The report highlighted that data regulation is essential to utilize the maximum potential in data by realizing its economic, social, and public value. The need to regulate data stems from the imbalances in bargaining power between the companies that lead to the creation of data monopolies. Moreover, the privacy concerns revolving around the dilution of shared data must be tackled.

 

Non-Personal Data (“NPD“) is the data that cannot be identified with a particular individual, for example, weather forecast, traffic details, geospatial information, production processes, anonymized personal data, etc.

 

  1. Committee’s Proposal to Non-Personal Data Regulation

 

The NPD Governance Framework outlines norms for collection of data and data sharing by entities. The salient features of the proposed framework are:

 

  • The NPD framework provides key roles for all the participants such as Data Principal, Data Custodian, Data Trustees and Data Trusts.
  • Classification of NPD: Non-personal Data is further classified into Public NPD, Community NPD and Private NPD. Public NPD is NPD that is collected or generated by the government or by the agency of the government and includes data collected or generated in the course of execution of all publicly funded works (e.g. public health information, vehicle registration, etc.) excluding the one that is explicitly declared as confidential under the law. Community NPD is data about inanimate or animate phenomenon about a particular community of natural persons (e.g. data collected by e-commerce platforms or by telecom). Private NPD is NPD collected or produced by non-governmental entities or persons.
    • Ownership of non-personal data: In cases wherein, non-personal data is derived from personal data of an individual, the data principal for personal data will be the data principal for the NPD too. Further, the rights over the community NPD collected in India will vest in the trustee of such a community.
    • Sensitivity of NPD: The Committee has also defined a new concept of ‘sensitivity of NPD’, as NPD can also be sensitive from the perspective of: a) national security or strategic interests; b) sensitive or confidential information relating to businesses; and c) anonymized data, that bears a risk of re-identification.
    • Data Businesses and data disclosures: There is also the creation of a new horizontal classification called ‘Data Business’ which is when any existing business collects data beyond a threshold level. Such Data Businesses have to get themselves registered and furnish information on what they do/ collect, their purpose, and the nature of data stored. However, registration of Data Businesses collecting data below the threshold is not mandatory.
    • Non-Personal Data Regulatory Authority: NPD Regulatory Authority shall ensure that data is shared for sovereign, social and economic welfare, for regulatory and competition purposes, and also that all stakeholders adhere to the rules and data sharing requirements.
  1. Unanswered Questions: Shortcomings of the proposed Framework:

 

Attempting to govern the NPD is a commendable effort, however, it seems that there is a slew of questions that are left unanswered. The following are the issues relating to the proposed framework:

 

  • The foremost need to govern NPD as highlighted by the Committee is the imbalance in the digital ecosystem. However, neither the sources of these imbalances have been identified or analysed nor has it been clarified how the proposed regulations resolve these inequities.
  • Ambiguous classification of NPD: The various types of NPD have a potential overlap, but then again, clearly demarcating a line between the three types would be a difficult task. Also, one of the three types of NPD is Community NPD, however, there is no clarification as to how the ‘community’ would be determined. The definition of ‘community’ is wide, under the same even religious groups, residents of the same locality or same educational background would be a valid community, which may have conflicting interests over data shared with the government. Further, without any guiding principles, companies will be forced to make legally binding decisions on what they deem to be a valid community, the scope of data to be shared and for the resolution of competing claims, which is problematic at various levels. Moreover, on a particular dataset, there could be various interests, and in such cases, who would be entrusted with the data remains ambiguous.
  • Anonymization of Personal Data to Non-Personal Data: The process of converting personal data into Non-Personal Data by removing certain identifiers or credentials is termed as ‘anonymization’. Anonymization would undoubtedly convert a set of personal data into non-personal data but, such data runs the risks of re-identification. Further, although anonymization is essential, high anonymization could render the data over-generalized and futile.
  • Reactions of Stakeholders to the sharing of data: Mandatory data sharing is highly criticized by stakeholders, as it undermines the investments put in business and the value of intellectual property information the competitors would suffer. This ‘forced data sharing’ is counterproductive and would have a rather negative effect on foreign trade and investments. NPD can constitute trade secrets, that may be protected by IP laws, sharing this data raises concerns around the right to carry business and India’s obligation under international trade law. The purposes for data sharing under the framework are ‘sovereign’, ‘core public interest’, and ‘economic’ purposes which essentially covers all the data held by companies, and must be narrowed down.
  • Lack of Clarity on who really are trustees of Data: There is ambiguity regarding who will be a data trustee. Whether private, for-profit organizations or private entities within the government could be data trustees is not apparent. Also, the position regarding a data trustee’s independence and conflict of interest remains murky. It is essential that the roles and functions of these bodies are comprehensively defined.
  • User-Consent: NPD Framework also proposes that before the anonymization of data the consent of the user must be taken. It remains particularly unclear as to how would the consent be taken from them. Further, a company needs to invest in resources and obtain user consent, and sharing data may provide no incentive to such companies and would drown them into losses.
  • Over-Regulation by Non-Personal Data Authority: Creating altogether a new authority for NPD would lead to potential regulatory overlap given Data Protection Authority addresses and enforces privacy concerns and the Competition Commission of India looks over consumer welfare.
  1. Conclusion

This effort of the Ministry to set up a Committee to study the NPD which may subsequently lead to a legislation governing the NPD in India is praiseworthy, however, a lot of issues need reconsideration. Stakeholders have expressed anguish over the mandatory sharing of data and data disclosures as it conveniently overlooks the humungous investments put in by the companies. Further, the roles and functions of various entities under the framework are not clearly defined. The NPDA established under the framework may have functional overlaps with the CCI and the Data Protection Authority.

 

Moreover, there is ambiguity regarding Community NPD and user consent. There is no doubt that the ever-evolving nature of information technology is demanding as far as regulatory mechanism is concerned therefore the road ahead is arduous. Hopefully, the concerns raised are adequately addressed by the Committee and constructively resolved in favour of all the stakeholders.

Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash

This effort of the Ministry to set up a Committee to study the NPD which may subsequently lead to legislation governing the NPD in India is praiseworthy, however, a lot of issues need reconsideration. Stakeholders have expressed anguish over the mandatory sharing of data and data disclosures as it outrightly overlooks the humungous investments put in by the companies.

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Core Legal Issues with Artificial Intelligence in India

The adoption and penetration of Artificial Intelligence in our lives today does not necessitate any more enunciation or illustration. While the technology is still considered to be in its infancy by many, so profound has been its presence that we do not comprehend our reliance on it unless it is specifically pointed out. From Siri, Alexa to Amazon and Netflix, there is hardly any sector that has remained untouched by Artificial Intelligence.

Thus, the adoption of artificial intelligence is not the challenge but its ‘regulation’ is a slippery slope. Which leads us to questions such as whether we need to regulate artificial intelligence at all? If yes, do we need a separate regulatory framework or are the existing laws enough to regulate artificial intelligence technology?

Artificial intelligence goes beyond normal computer programs and technological functions by incorporating the intrinsic human ability to apply knowledge and skills and learning as well as improving with time. This makes them human-like. Since humans have rights and obligations, shouldn’t human-likes have them too?

But at this point in time, there have been no regulations or adjudications by the Courts acknowledging the legal status of artificial intelligence. Defining the legal status of AI machines would be the first cogent step in the framing of laws governing artificial intelligence and might even help with the application of existing laws.

A pertinent step in the direction of having a structured framework was taken by the Ministry of Industry and commerce when they set up an 18 member task force in 2017 to highlight and address the concerns and challenges in the adoption of artificial intelligence and facilitate the growth of such technology in India. The Task Force came up with a report in March 2018[1] in which they provided recommendations for the steps to be taken in the formulation of a policy.

The Report identified ten sectors which have the greatest potential to benefit from the adoption of artificial intelligence and also cater to the development of artificial intelligence-based technologies. The report also highlighted the major challenges which the implementation of artificial intelligence might face when done on large scale, namely (i) Encouraging data collection, archiving and availability with adequate safeguards, possibly via data marketplaces/exchanges; (ii) Ensuring data security, protection, privacy and ethical via regulatory and technological frameworks; (iii) Digitization of systems and processes with IoT systems whilst providing adequate protection from cyber-attacks; and (iv) Deployment of autonomous products and mitigation of impact on employment and safety.[2]

The Task Force also suggested setting up of an “Inter–Ministerial National Artificial Intelligence Mission”, for a period of 5 years, with funding of around INR 1200 Crores, to act as a nodal agency to coordinate all AI-related activities in India.

 

Core Legal Issues

When we look at the adoption of artificial intelligence from a legal and regulatory point of view, the main issue we need to consider is, are the existing laws sufficient to address the legal issues which might arise or do we need a new set of laws to regulate the artificial intelligence technologies. Whilst certain aspects like intellectual property rights and use of data to develop artificial intelligence might be covered under the existing laws, there are some legal issues which might need a new set of regulation to overlook the artificial intelligence technology.

 

  • Liability of Artificial Intelligence

 

The current legal regime does not have a framework where a robot or an artificial intelligence program might be held liable or accountable in case a third party suffers any damage due to any act or omission by the program. For instance, let us consider a situation where a self-driven car controlled via an artificial intelligence program gets into an accident. How will the liability be apportioned in such a scenario?

The more complex the artificial intelligence program, the harder it will be to apply simple rules of liability on them. The issue of apportionment of liability will also arise when the cause of harm cannot be traced back to any human element, or where any act or omission by the artificial intelligence technology which has caused damage could have been avoided by human intervention.

One more instance where the current legal regime may not be able to help is where the artificial intelligence enters into a contractual obligation after negotiating the terms and conditions of the contract and subsequently there is a breach of contract.

In the judicial pronouncement of United States v Athlone Indus Inc[3] it was held by the court that since robots and artificial intelligence programs are not natural or legal persons, they cannot be held liable even if any devastating damage may be caused. This traditional rule may need reconsideration with the adoption of highly intelligent technology.

The pertinent legal question here is what kind of rules, regulations and laws will govern these situations and who is to decide it, where the fact is that artificial intelligence entities are not considered to be subject of law.[4]

 

  • Personhood of Artificial Intelligence Entities

 

From a legal point of view, personhood of an entity is an extremely important factor to assign rights and obligations. Personhood can either be natural or legal. Attribution of personhood is important from the point of view that it would help identify as to who would ultimately be bearing the consequences of an act or omission.

Artificial intelligence entities, to have any rights or obligations should be assigned personhood to avoid any legal loopholes. “Electronic personhood”[5] could be attributed to such entities in situations where they interact independently with third parties and take autonomous decisions.

 

  • Protection of Privacy and Data

For the development of better artificial intelligence technologies, the free flow of data is crucial as it is the main fuel on which these technologies run. Thus, artificial intelligence technologies must be developed in such a way that they comply with the existing laws of privacy, confidentiality, anonymity and other data protection framework in place. There must be regulations which ensure that there is no misuse of personal data or security breach. There should be mechanisms that enable users to stop processing their personal data and to invoke the right to be forgotten. It further remains to be seen whether the current data protection/security obligations should be imposed on AI and other similar automated decision-making entities to preserve individual’s right to privacy which was declared as a fundamental right by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in KS Puttaswamy & Anr. v Union of India and Ors[6]. This also calls for an all-inclusive data privacy regime which would apply to both private and public sector and would govern the protection of data, including data used in developing artificial intelligence. Similarly, surveillance laws also would need a revisiting for circumstances which include the use of fingerprints or facial recognition through artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies.

At this point in time there are a lot of loose ends to be tied up like the rights and responsibilities of the person who controls the data for developing artificial intelligence or the rights of the data subjects whose data is being used to develop such technologies. The double-edged sword situation between development of artificial intelligence and the access of data for further additional purposes also needs to be deliberated upon.

Concluding Remarks

In this evolving world of technology with the capabilities of autonomous decision making, it is inevitable that the implementation of such technology will have legal implications. There is a need for a legal definition of artificial intelligence entities in judicial terms to ensure regulatory transparency. While addressing the legal issues, it is important that there is a balance between the protection of rights of individuals and the need to ensure consistent technological growth. Proper regulations would also ensure that broad ethical standards are adhered to. The established legal principles would not only help in the development of the sector but will also ensure that there are proper safeguards in place.

In this evolving world of technology with the capabilities of autonomous decision making, it is inevitable that the implementation of such technology will have legal implications. There is a need for a legal definition of artificial intelligence entities in judicial terms to ensure regulatory transparency. While addressing the legal issues, it is important that there is a balance between the protection of rights of individuals and the need to ensure consistent technological growth.

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Bulk Data Sharing & Procedure Notification - A Data Breach?

In this digital era, data has become one of the most valuable assets to own. Elections have been won and international alliances have toppled because of support that could be garnered by utilizing data analytics. While heated debate surrounding data breaches by private entities baffles the world, at home, it is accused that the Indian Government has monetized from sale of personal data of Individuals, in the pretext of public purposes” under a notification released by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in March 2019 titled “Bulk Data Sharing & Procedure”.

In July 2019, a parliamentary debate pertaining to “sale of data” by the State was raised because the Government had provided access to databases containing driving license and vehicle registration details to private companies and Government entities and generated revenue out of them.  The two databases of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways named Vahan and Sarathi were under discussion.  These databases contained details such as vehicle owner’s names, registration details, chasis number, engine number, and driving license related particulars of individuals.  These details amount to personal information by which an individual could be identified (“Personal Data”).  

The sale of data was pursuant to a notification released by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in March 2019 titled Bulk Data Sharing & Procedure wherein a policy framework on sale of bulk data relating to driving license and vehicle registration was introduced.  Among other things, this writeup discusses whether such sale of Personal Data for revenue generation is acceptable in light of privacy as a fundamental right and the Data Protection Bill 2018? and whether such access constitutes data breach? 

 

Bulk Data Sharing & Procedure Notification 

The “Bulk Data Sharing & Procedure” notification by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways states the purpose for which bulk data access would be  provided: 

it is recognized that sharing this data for other purposes, in a controlled manner, can support the transport and automobile industry.  The sharing of data will also help in service improvements and wider benefits to citizens & Government. In addition, it will also benefit the country’s economy”.  

As per the notification, only such entities that qualify the eligibility criteria would be provided access to bulk data.  The eligibility criteria are that an entity should be registered in India with at least 50% Indian ownership, such bulk data should be processed/stored in Servers/Data Centers in India, and the entity should have obtained security pre-audit report from CERT-In empanelled auditor.  The bulk data access would be provided for a price.  

Commercial organizations could have such data for an amount of INR 3 crores and educational institutions could have them for 5 lakhs.  As per the notification, the bulk data will be provided in encrypted form with restricted access.  Such entities would be restricted from any activity that would identify individuals using such data sets.  The entities would be required to follow certain protocols for data loss prevention, access controls, audit logs, security and vulnerability.  Violation of these protocols is punishable under the Information Technology Act, 2000. 

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has in accordance with this policy framework provided database access to 87 private companies and 32 government entities for a price of 65 crores resulting in Personal Data of all individuals being accessible to them.  The Data Principal (the individual whose information is in the database) has no knowledge or control over any use or misuse of his/her information.   

In any data protection framework worldwide, the Data Principal’s consent should be sought stating the purpose for which data ought to be used.  It is only pursuant to Data Principal’s consent that any information can be processed.  On the contrary, providing access to Personal Data to third party private companies without any consent of the Data Principal will keep them out of effective control.  This is against the basic principles of data protection. 

 

Proposed Legislation for Data Protection 

India is on the verge of a new Data Protection Act as the bill is being placed in the Parliament.  The Data Protection Bill, 2018 contains certain provisions to address the above-mentioned issues.  Section 5 of the Data Protection Bill states when personal data can be processed.  Personal Data shall be allowed only for such purposes that are  clear, specific, and lawful.  Section 5 is extracted below: 

  1. Purpose limitation— (1) Personal data shall be processed only for purposes that are clear, specific and lawful. (2) Personal data shall be processed only for purposes specified or for any other incidental purpose that the data principal would reasonably expect the personal data to be used for, having regard to the specified purposes, and the context and circumstances in which the personal data was collected.

Moreover, the relevant enactment regulating driving license and vehicle registration i.e. Motor Vehicle Act does not explicitly permit the State to sell or provide third parties access to Personal Data for generation of revenue.  Therefore, there is no clear, specific, or lawful indication of such access in the enactment.  The question arises whether access to bulk Personal Data can be interpreted as an “incidental purpose” that “data principal would reasonably expect”.  The data principal has provided this information only for the purpose of grant of motor vehicle license and vehicle registration.  The Data Principal ought not have expected his/her data to be sold by the Government. 

Section 13 of the Data Protection Bill is also of relevance here because it authorizes the State to process Personal Data for provision of services, benefit or issuance of certification, licenses or permits.  Section 13 is extracted below: 

Section 13 – Processing of personal data for functions of the State. — Personal data may be processed if such processing is necessary for excise of the functions of the State authorised by law for: (a) the provision of any service or benefit to the data principal from the State. (b) the issuance of any certification, license, or permit for any action or activity of the data principal of the State. 

 

By this section, the State is authorized to use Personal Data for grant of license or permits or to provide any benefit or service.  However, whether the State is authorized to give access to Personal Data to third party private companies is unclear. 

Section 17 of the Data Protection Bill tries to shed some light on this anomaly.  The section states that Personal Data may be processed for “reasonable purposes” after considering if there is any public interest involved in processing the same.  What constitutes reasonable purpose is yet to be specified by the Data Protection Authority to be constituted.  Section 17 is extracted hereunder: 

  1. Processing of data for reasonable purposes. — 

(1) In addition to the grounds for processing contained in section12 to section 16, personal data may be processed if such processing is necessary for such reasonable purposes as may be specified after taking into consideration— 

(a) the interest of the data fiduciary in processing for that purpose; 

(b) whether the data fiduciary can reasonably be expected to obtain the consent of the data principal; 

(c) any public interest in processing for that purpose; 

(d) the effect of the processing activity on the rights of the data principal; and 

(e) the reasonable expectations of the data principal having regard to the context of the processing. 

(2) For the purpose of sub-section (1), the Authority may specify reasonable purposes related to the following activities, including— 

(a) prevention and detection of any unlawful activity including fraud; 

(b) whistle blowing; 

(c) mergers and acquisitions; 

(d) network and information security; 

(e) credit scoring; 

(f) recovery of debt; 

(g) processing of publicly available personal data; 

(3) Where the Authority specifies a reasonable purpose under sub-section (1), it shall: (a) lay down such safeguards as may be appropriate to ensure the protection of the rights of data principals; and (b) determine where the provision of notice under section 8 would not apply having regard to whether such provision would substantially prejudice the relevant reasonable purpose. 

 

Section 17, therefore, clarifies that when there is any public interest involved, the State may provide access to publicly available personal data to third parties.  This read with Section 13 indicates that State is not required to get the consent of Data Principal in order to provide services and benefits.   

 

Whether the State has provided access to personal data for public interest or to provide services and benefits? 

The Bulk Data Processing & Procedure notification states that the purpose of providing access of bulk Personal Data is to “support the transport and automobile industry” & “help in service improvements and wider benefits to citizens & Government”.  Supporting the transport and automobile industry and improving services may qualify as public interest, whereas, mere revenue generation will not.  However, there is no clarification from the Government as to how these private companies to whom database access is being provided assist in public interest.  Further, whether all driving license and registration details related data can be classified as publicly available information is again contentious and questionable as the information provided therein is intended to be provided only to license holders & vehicle owners and is partially masked. 

In the event if this Personal Data is not construed as public data or these public companies have been given access to personal data in the absence of any public interest, it would result  in personal data breach by the Government Departments where the head of Department will be held liable as per section 96 of the Data Protection Bill. 

It is quite preposterous to note that on the one hand Data Protection Bill is being tabled in parliament and on the other, the Government is selling Personal Data of the general public for economic gains.  Whether it results in the exploitation of personal and private data on the pretext of public interest without an individual’s consent needs to be ascertained. 

Image Credits:

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

 

It is quite preposterous to note that on the one hand Data Protection Bill is being tabled in parliament and on the other, the Government is selling Personal Data of the general public for economic gains.

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