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Data gathering by public agencies picks up even as the law hangs fire

GS Paper 3

Syllabus: Internal Security/ Governance


Source: Indian Express

Direction: Personal data protection/Surveillance is an important topic. Keep a note on it including a few points of the now withdrawn Personal data protection bill 2021. No need to note down all examples, have 1-2 examples ready.


Context: Experts have raised concerns about the trend of increasing the government’s efforts in data collection and monetisation in the absence of a basic data protection regime.


Instances of increasing data collection:

  • Customs department mandating airlines to share personal details of international flyers,
  • Civil Aviation Ministry’s facial recognition system DigiYatra
  • MeitY’s proposal to share non-personal data collected by the government with start-ups and researchers
  • CERT-In’s mandate asks virtual private network (VPN) service providers to store data of their users
  • Department of Telecommunications (DoT) (2021): Telecom operators and internet service providers to maintain commercial and call detail records for at least two years (instead of 1 year currently)
  • Contact tracing app Aarogya Setu —and collected data like their names, phone numbers and location.
    • Karnataka High Court in October 2020 ordered that the app cannot be made mandatory.



Instances of increasing efforts for Data Monetisation:

  • IRCTC released a tender detailing its plans to monetise its bank of passenger data (including sensitive data such as mobile numbers, email, and passwords) for doing business with government and private entities. (now withdrawn)
  • MeitY had floated a draft India Data Accessibility and Use Policy which proposed that data collected by the Centre that has “undergone value addition” can be sold in the open market for an “appropriate price”. (now withdrawn)
  • The Ministry of Road Transport (2020): Bulk Data Sharing Policy, under which the ministry used to sell vehicle registration data (Vahan) and driving licence data (Sarathi) to private and public entities. (Now Scrapped)



Previously, the government withdrew the Data Protection Bill, 2021, saying that it will soon come out with a “comprehensive legal framework” for the online ecosystem.

  • The bill laid down a framework for consent-related mechanisms before gathering data and how personal data was supposed to be handled by various entities and provided for a recourse mechanism in case a person’s data was compromised.


Fundamental issue in treating citizens’ data as a “wealth resource”:

  • The 2018-2019 Economic Survey of India referred to data as a ‘public good’. By definition, that means it should be treated as a ‘non-excludable and non-rivalrous public good’ and not traded as if it were a commodity.
  • Data is not a ‘sovereign wealth resource’: Treating it as such will lead to attempts to accumulate, and subsequently monetise large volumes of data, without data protection law.
  • Violating SC order (Puttaswamy Judgement 2017): ‘Right to Privacy’ as a fundamental right.




The government’s primary concern should be service delivery and safeguarding the information it gathers from citizens towards this end. Its key objective should not be to monetise this data for profit.


Insta Links

Data Protection Bill


Mains Links

Those giving mains this time, have notes ready on personal data protection, implications and need for government surveillance, and Facial recognition technology (in S&T).

Q. What is the CyberDome Project? Explain how it can be useful in controlling internet crimes in India. (UPSC 2019)


Prelims Links

Link it with types of data- personal and non-personal, committee for data protection, what are biometric data etc. Now answer the Question.

In addition to fingerprint scanning, which of the following can be used in the biometric identification of a person?

      1. Iris scanning
      2. Retinal scanning
      3. Voice recognition

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Answer: D