Centre for Internet & Society

The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) and the Sarai programme, CSDS, organised a workshop on 'Privacy after Big Data: What Changes? What should Change?' on Saturday, November 12, 2016 at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi.

This workshop aimed to build a dialogue around some of the key government-led big data initiatives in India and elsewhere that are contributing significant new challenges and concerns to the ongoing debates on the right to privacy. It was an open event.

In this age of big data, discussions about privacy are intertwined with the use of technology and the data deluge. Though big data possesses enormous value for driving innovation and contributing to productivity and efficiency, privacy concerns have gained significance in the dialogue around regulated use of data and the means by which individual privacy might be compromised through means such as surveillance, or protected. The tremendous opportunities big data creates in varied sectors ranges from financial technology, governance, education, health, welfare schemes, smart cities to name a few. With the UID project re-animating the Right to Privacy debate in India, and the financial technology ecosystem growing rapidly, striking a balance between benefits of big data and privacy concerns is a critical policy question that demands public dialogue and research to inform an evidence based decision. Also, with the advent of potential big data initiatives like the ambitious Smart Cities Mission under the Digital India Scheme, which would rely on harvesting large data sets and the use of analytics in city subsystems to make public utilities and services efficient, the tasks of ensuring data security on one hand and protecting individual privacy on the other become harder.

This workshop sought to discuss some of the emerging problems due to the advent of big data and possible ways to address these problems. The workshop began with Amber Sinha of CIS and Sandeep Mertia of Sarai introducing the topic of big data and implications for privacy. Both speakers tried to define big data and brief history of the evolution of the term and raised questions about how we understand it. Dr. Usha Ramanathan spoke on the right to privacy in the context of the ongoing Aadhaar case and Vipul Kharbanda introduced the concept of Habeas Data as a possible solution to the privacy problems posed by big data.  Amelia Andersotter discussed national centralised digital ID systems and their evolution in Europe, often operating at a cross-functional scale, and highlighted its implications for discussions on data protection, welfare governance, and exclusion from public and private services. Srikanth Lakshmanan spoke of the issues with technology and privacy, and possible technological solutions.  Dr. Anupam Saraph discussed the rise of digital banking and Aadhaar based payments and its potential use for corrupt practices. Astha Kapoor of Microsave spoke about her experience of implementation of digital money solution in rural India.

Post lunch, Dr. Anja Kovacs and Mathew Rice spoke on the rise of mass communication surveillance across the world, and the evolving challenges of regulating surveillance by government agencies. Mathew also spoke of privacy movements by citizens and civil society in regions. In the final speaking session, Apar Gupta and Kritika Bhardwaj traced the history of jurisprudence on the right to privacy and the existing regulations and procedures. In the final session, the participants discussed various possible solutions to privacy threats from big data and identity projects including better regulation, new approached such as harms based regulation and privacy risk assessments, and conceiving privacy as a horizontal right. The workshop ended with vote of thanks from the organizers.

The agenda for the event can be accessed here, and the transcript is available here.

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