Centre for Internet & Society

On October 19, 2013, the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) in collaboration with the Federation for Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Data Security Council of India, and Privacy International held a “Privacy Round-table” in New Delhi at the FICCI Federation House.

The Round-table was the last in a series of seven, beginning in April 2013, which were held across India.

Previous Privacy Round-tables were held in:

  • New Delhi: (April 13, 2013) with 45 participants;
  • Bangalore: (April 20, 2013) with 45 participants;
  • Chennai: (May 18, 2013) with 25 participants;
  • Mumbai, (June 15, 2013) with 20 participants;
  • Kolkata: (July 13, 2013) with 25 participants; and
  • New Delhi: (August 24, 2013) with 40 participants.

Chantal Bernier, Assistant Privacy Commissioner Canada, Jacob Kohnstamm, Dutch Data Protection Authority and Chairman of the Article 29 Working Party, and Christopher Graham, Information Commissioner UK were the featured speakers for this event.

The Privacy Round-tables were organised to ignite spark in public dialogues and gain feedback for a privacy framework for India. To achieve this, the Privacy Protection Bill, 2013, drafted by the Centre for Internet and Society, Strengthening Privacy through Co-regulation by the Data Security Council of India, and the Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy by the Justice A.P. Shah committee were used as background documents for the Round-tables. As a note, after each Round-table, CIS revised the text of the Privacy Protection Bill, 2013 based on feedback gathered from the general public.

The Seventh Privacy Round-table meeting began with an overview of the past round-tables and a description of the evolution of a privacy legislation in India till date, and an overview of the Indian interception regime. In 2011, the Department of Personnel and Training drafted a Privacy Bill that incorporated provisions regulating data protection, surveillance, interception of communications, and unsolicited messages. Since 2010, India has been seeking data secure status from the European Union, and in 2012 a report was issued noting that the Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information Rules found under section 43A of the Information Technology Act, were not sufficient to meet EU data secure adequacy.  In 2012, the Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy was published recommending a privacy framework for India and was accepted by the government, and the Department of Personnel and Training is presently responsible for drafting of a privacy legislation for India.

Presentation: Jacob Kohnstamm, Dutch Data Protection Authority and Chairman of the Article 29 Working Group

Jacob Kohnstamm, made a presentation on the privacy framework in the European Union. In his presentation, Khonstamm shared how history, such as the Second World War, shaped the present understanding and legal framework for privacy in the European Union, where privacy is seen as a fundamental human right. Kohnstamm also explained how over the years technological developments have made data gold, and subsequently, companies who process this data and create services that allow for the generation of more data are becoming monopolies. This has created an unbalanced situation for the individual consumer, where his or her data is being routinely collected by companies, and once collected — the individual loses control over the data. Because of this asymmetric relationship, data protection regulations are critical to ensure that individual rights are safeguarded.

Kohnstamm recognized the tension between stringent data protection regulations and security for the government, and the provision of services for businesses was recognized. However, he argued that the use of technology without regulation — for commercial reason or security reasons, can lead to harm. Thus, it is key that any regulation incorporate proportionality as a cornerstone to the use of these technologies to ensure trust between the individual and the State, and the individual and the corporation. This will also ensure that individuals are given the right of equality, and the right to live free of discrimination. Kohnstamm went on to explain that any regulation needs to ensure that individuals are provided the necessary tools to control their data and that a robust supervisory authority is established with enough powers to enforce the provisions, and that checks and balances are put in place to safeguard against abuse.

In response to a question asked about how the EU addresses the tension of data protection and national security, Kohnstamm clarified that in the EU, national security is left as a matter for member states to address but the main principles found in the EU Data Protection Directive also apply to the handling of information for national security purposes. He emphasized the importance of the creation of checks and balances. As security agencies are given additional and broader powers, they must also be subjected to stronger safeguards.

Kohnstamm also discussed the history of the fair trade agreement with India, and India’s request for data secure status. It was noted that currently the fair trade agreement between India and the EU is stalled, as India has asked for data secure status. For the EU to grant this status, it must be satisfied that when European data is transferred and processed in India and that it is subject to the same level of protections as it would be if it were processed in the EU. Without a privacy legislation in place, India’s present  regime does not reflect the same level of protections as the EU regime. To find a way out of this ‘dead lock’, the EU and India have agreed to set up an expert group — with experts from both the EU and India to find a way in which India’s regime can be modified to meet EU date secure adequacy. As of date, no experts from the Indian side have been nominated and communicated to the EU.

Key Points:

  1. Europe’s history has influenced the understanding and formulation of the right to privacy as a fundamental right.
  2. Any privacy regulation must have strong checks and balances in place and ensure that individuals are given the tools to control their data.
  3. India’s current regime does not meet EU data secure adequacy. Currently, the EU is waiting for India to nominate experts to work with the EU to find a way of the ‘dead lock’.

Discussion: National Security, Surveillance and Privacy

Opening the discussion up to the floor, it was discussed how in India, there is a tension between data protection and national security, as national security is always a blanket exception to the right to privacy. This tension has been discussed and debated by both democratic institutions in India and commercial entities. It was pointed out that though data protection is a new debate, national security is a debate that has existed in India for many years. It was also pointed out that currently there are not sufficient checks and balances for the powers given to Indian security agencies. One missing safeguard that the Indian regime has been heavily criticized for is the power of the Secretary of the Home Ministry to authorize interception requests, as having the authorization power vested in the executive leaves little space between interested parties seeking approval of interception orders, and could result in abuse or conflict of interest. With regards to the Indian interception regime, it was explained that currently there are five ways in which messages can be intercepted in India. Previously, the Law Commission of India had asked that amendments be made to both the Indian Post Office Act and the Indian Telegraph Act.

Moving the discussion to the Privacy Protection Bill, 2013 by CIS, in Chapter V “Surveillance and Interception of Communications” clause 34, the authorization of interception and surveillance orders is left to a magistrate. Previously, the authorization of interception orders rested with the Privacy Commissioner, but this model was heavily critiqued in previous round-tables, and the authorizing authority has been subsequently changed to a magistrate. Participants pointed out that the Bill should specify the level of the magistrate that will be responsible for the authorization of surveillance orders, and also raised the concern that the lower judiciary in India is not adequately functioning as the courts are overwhelmed, thus creating the possibility for abuse. Participants also suggested that perhaps data protection and surveillance should be de-linked from each other and placed in separate bills. This echoes public feedback from previous roundtables.

While discussing needed safeguards in an interception and surveillance regime for India, it was called out that transparency of surveillance, by both the government and the service providers as key safeguards to ensuring the protection of privacy, as it would enable individuals to make educated decisions about the services they choose to use and the extent of governmental surveillance. The need to bring in a provision that incorporated the idea of "nexus of surveillance" was also highlighted. It was also pointed out that in Canada, entities wanting to deploy surveillance in the name of public safety, must take steps to prove nexus. For example, the organization must empirically prove that there is a need for a security requirement, demonstrate that only data that is absolutely necessary will be collected, show how the technology will be effective, prove that there is not a less invasive way to collect the information, demonstrate security measures in place to ensure against loss and misuse, and the organizations must have in place both internal and external oversight mechanisms. It was also shared that in Canada, security agencies are regulated by the Office of the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, as privacy and security are not seen as separate matters. In the Canadian regime, because security agencies have more powers, they are also subjected to greater oversight.

Key Points:

  1. The Indian surveillance regime currently does not have strong enough safeguards.
  2. The concept of ‘nexus’ should be incorporated into the Privacy Protection Bill, 2013.
  3. A magistrate, through judicial oversight for interception and surveillance requests, might not be the most effective authority for this role in India.

Presentation: Chantal Bernier, Deputy Privacy Commissioner, Canada

In her presentation, Bernier made the note that in the Canadian model there are multiple legislative initiatives that are separate but connected, and all provide a legislative basis for the right to privacy. Furthermore, it was pointed out that there are two privacy legislations in Canada, one regulating the private sector and the other regulating the public sector. It has been structured this way as it is understood that the relationship between individuals and business is based on consent, while the relationship between individuals and the state is based on human rights. Furthermore, aspects of privacy, such as consent are different in the public sector and the private sector. In her presentation, Bernier pointed out that privacy is a global issue and because of this, it is critical that countries have privacy regimes that can speak to each other. This does not mean that the regimes must be identical, but they must at the least be inter-operable.

Bernier described three main characteristics of the Canadian privacy regime including:

  1. It is comprehensive and applies to both the public and the private sectors.
  2. The right to privacy in Canada is constitutionally based and is a fundamental right as it is attached to personal integrity. This means that privacy is above contractual fairness. That said, the right to privacy must be balanced collectively with other imperatives.
  3. The Canadian privacy regime is principle based and not rule based. This flexible model allows for quick adaption to changing technologies and societal norms. Furthermore, Bernier explained how Canada places responsibility and accountability on companies to respect, protect, and secure privacy in the way in which the company believes it can meet. Bernier also noted that all companies are responsible and accountable for any data that they outsource for processing.

Furthermore, any company that substantially deals with Canadians must ensure that the forum for which complaints etc., are heard is Canada. Furthermore, under the Canadian privacy regime, accountability for data protection rests with the original data holder who must ensure — through contractual clauses — that any information processed through a third party meets the Canadian level of protection. This means any company that deals with a Canadian company will be required to meet the Canadian standards for data protection.

Speaking to the governance structure of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner in Canada, Bernier explained that the OPC is a completely independent office and reports directly to the Parliament. The OPC hears complaints from both individuals and organizations. The OPC does not have any enforcement powers, such as finding a company, but does have the ability to "name" companies who are not in compliance with Canadian regulations, if it is in the public interest to do so. The OPC can perform audits upon discretion with respect to the public sector, and can perform audits on the private sector if they have reasonable grounds to investigate.

Bernier concluded her presentation with lessons that have been learned from the Canadian experience including:

  1. The importance of having strong regulators.
  2. Privacy regulators must work and cooperate together.
  3. Privacy has become a condition of trade.
  4. In today’s age, issues around surveillance cannot be underestimated.
  5. Companies that have strong privacy practices now have a competitive advantage in place in today’s global market.
  6. Privacy frameworks must be clear and flexible.
  7. Oversight must be powerful to ensure proper protection of citizens in a world of asymmetry between individuals, corporations, and governments.

Key Points:

  1. The Right to Privacy is a fundamental right in Canada.
  2. The Canadian privacy regime regulates the public sector and the private sector, but through two separate legislations.
  3. The OPC does not have the power to levy fines, but does have the power to conduct audits and investigations and ‘name’ companies who are not in compliance with Canadian regulations if it is in the public interest.

Discussion: The Data Protection Authority

Participants also discussed the composition of the Data Protection Authority as described in chapter IV of the Privacy Protection Bill. It was called out that the in the Bill, the Data Protection Authority might need to be made more independent. It was suggested that to avoid having the office of the Data Protection Authority be filled with bureaucrats, the Bill should specify that the office must be staffed by individuals with IT experience, lawyers, judges, etc. On the other hand it was cautioned, that though this might be useful to some extent, it might not be helpful to be overly prescriptive, as there is no set profile of what composition of employees makes for a strong and effective Data Protection Authority. Instead the Bill should ensure that the office of the Data Protection Authority is independent, accountable, and chosen by an independent selection board.

When discussing possible models for the framework of the Data Protection Authority, it was pointed out that there are many models that could be adopted. Currently in India the commission model is not flexible, and many commissions that are set up, are not effective due to funding and internal bureaucracy. Taking that into account, in the Privacy Protection Bill, 2013, the Data Protection Authority, could be established as a small regulator with an appellate body to hear complaints.

Key Points:

  1. The Data Protection Authority established in the Privacy Protection Bill must be adequately independent.
  2. The composition of the Data Protection Authority be diverse and it should have the competence to address the dynamic nature of privacy.
  3. The Data Protection Authority could be established as a small regulator with an appellate body attached.

Presentation: Christopher Graham, Information Commissioner, United Kingdom

Christopher Graham, the UK Information Commissioner, spoke about the privacy regime in the United Kingdom and his role as the UK Information Commissioner. As the UK Information Commissioner, his office is responsible for both the UK Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act. In this way, the right to know is not in opposition to the right to privacy, but instead an integral part.

Graham said that his office also provides advice to data controllers on how to comply with the privacy principles found in the Data Protection Act, and his office has the power to fine up to half a million pounds on non-compliant data controllers. Despite having this power, it is rarely used, as a smaller fine is usually sufficient enough for the desired effect. Yet, at the end of the day, whatever penalty is levied, it must be proportionate and risk based i.e., selective to be effective. In this way the regulatory regime should not be heavy handed but instead should be subtle and effective. In fact, one of the strongest regulators is the reality of the market place where the price of not having strong standards is innovation and economic growth. To this extent, Graham also pointed out that self regulation and co-regulation are both workable models, if there is strong enforcement mechanisms. Graham emphasized the fact that any data protection must go beyond, and cannot be limited to, just security.

Graham also explained that he has found that currently there is a lack of confidence in Indian partners. This is problematic as the Indian industry tries to grow with European partners. For example, he has been told that customers are moving banks because their previous bank’s back offices were located in India. Citing other examples of cases of data breaches from Indian data controllers, such as a call center merging the accounts of two customers and another call centre selling customer information, he explained that the lack of confidence in the Indian regime has real economic implications. Graham further explained that one difficulty that the office of the UK ICO is faced with, is that India does not have the equivalent of the ICO. Thus, when a breach does happen, it is unclear who can be approached in India about the breach.

Touching upon the issue of data adequacy with the EU, Graham noted that if data adequacy is a goal of India, the privacy principles as defined in the Directive and reflected in the UK Data Protection Act, must be addressed in addition to security. In his presentation, Graham emphasized the importance of India amending their current regime, if they want data secure status and spoke about the economic benefits for both Europe and India, if India does in fact obtain data secure status. In response to a question about why it is so important that India amend its laws, if in effect the UK has the ability to enforce the provisions of UK Data Protection Act, Graham clarified that most important is the rule of law, and according to UK law and more broadly the EU Directive, companies cannot transfer information to jurisdictions that do not have recognized adequate levels of protection. Thus, if companies still wish to transfer information to India, this must be done through binding corporate rules.

Another question which was put forth was about how the right to privacy differs from other human rights, and why countries are requiring that other countries to uphold the right to privacy to the same level, when, for example this is not practiced for other human rights such as children’s rights. In response Graham explained that data belongs to the individual, and when it is transferred to another country — it still belongs to the individual. Although the UK would like all countries to uphold the rights of children to the standard that they do, the UK is not exporting UK citizen’s children to India. Thus, as the Information Commissioner he has a responsibility to protect his citizen’s data, even when it leaves the UK jurisdiction.  Graham explained further that in the history of Europe, the misuse of data to do harm has been a common trend, which is why privacy is seen as a fundamental right, and why it is paramount that European data is subject to the same level of protection no matter what jurisdiction it is in. India needs to understand that privacy is a fundamental right and goes beyond security, and that when a company processes data it does not own the data, the individual owns the data and thus has rights attached to it to understand why Europe requires countries to be ‘data secure’ before transferring data to them.

Key Points:

  1. The UK Information Commissioners Office regulates both the right to information and privacy, and thus the two rights are seen as integral to each other.
  2. Penalties must be proportionate and scalable to the offense.
  3. Co-regulation and self-regulation can both be viable models to for privacy, but enforcement is key to them being effective.

Discussion: Collection of Data with Consent and Collection of Data without Consent

Participants also discussed the collection of data with consent and the collection of data without consent found in Chapter III of the Bill. When asked opinions about the circumstances when informed consent should not be required,  it was pointed out that in the Canadian model, the option to collect information without consent only applies to the public sector if it is necessary for the delivery of a service by the government. In the private sector all collection of information requires informed and meaningful consent. Yet, collection of data without consent in the commercial context is an area that Canada is wrestling with, as there are instances, such as online advertising, where it is unreasonable to expect consent all the time. It was also pointed out that in the European Directive, consent is only one of the seven grounds under which data can be collected. As part of the conversation on consent, it was pointed out that the Bill currently does not take explicitly take into account the consent for transfer of information, and it does not address changing terms of service and if companies must re-take consent, or if providing notice to the individual was sufficient. The question about consent and additional collection of data that is generated through use of that service was also raised. For example, if an individual signs up for a mobile connection and initially provides information that the service provider stores in accordance to the privacy principles, does the service provider have an obligation to treat all data generated by the user while using the service of the same? The exception of disclosure without consent was also raised and it was pointed out that companies are required to disclose information to law enforcement when required. For example, telecom service providers must now store location data of all subscribers for up to 6 months and share the same when requested by law enforcement.

Key Points:

  1. There are instances where expecting companies to have informed consent for every collection of information is not reasonable. Alternative models, based on — for example transparency — must be explored to address these situations.
  2. The Privacy Protection Bill should explicitly address transfer of information to other countries.
  3. The Privacy Protection Bill should address consent in the context of changing terms of service.

Discussion: Penalties and Offences

The penalties and offenses prescribed in chapter VI of the Privacy Protection Bill were discussed by participants. While discussing the chapter, many different opinions were voiced. For example, some participants held the opinion that offences and penalties should not exist in the Privacy Protection Bill, because in reality they are more likely than not to be effective. For example, when litigating civil penalties, it takes a long time for the money to be realized. Others argued that in India, where enforcement of any law is often weak, strong, clear, and well defined criminal penalties are needed. Another comment raised the point that a distinction should be made between breaches of the law by data controllers and breaches by rogue individuals — as the type of violation. For example, a breach by a data controller is often a matter identifying the breach and putting in place strictures to ensure that it does not happen again by holding the company accountable through oversight. Where as a breach by a rogue agent entails identifying the breach and the rogue agent and creating a strong enough penalty to ensure that they will not repeat the violation.  Adding to this discussion, it was pointed out that in the end, scalability is key in ensuring that penalties are proportional and effective. It was also noted that in the UK, any fine that is levied is appealable. This builds in a system of checks and balances, and ensures that companies and individuals are not subject to unfair or burdensome penalties.

The possibility of incentivizing compliance, through rewards and distinctions, was discussed by participants. Some felt that incentivizing compliance would be more effective as it would give companies distinct advantages to incorporating privacy protections, while others felt that incentives can be included but penalties cannot be excluded, otherwise the provisions of the Privacy Protection Bill 2013 will not be enforceable. It was also pointed out that in the context of India, ideally there should be a mechanism to address the ‘leakages’ that happen in the system i.e., corruption. Though this is difficult to achieve, regulations could take steps like specifically prohibiting the voluntary disclosure of information by companies to law enforcement. Taking a sectoral approach to penalties was also suggested as companies in different sectors face specific challenges and types of breaches. Another approach that could be implemented is the statement of a time limit for data controllers and commissioners to respond to complaints. This has worked for the implementation of the Right to Information Act in India, and it would be interesting to see how it plays out for the right to privacy. Throughout the discussion a number of different possible ways to structure offenses and penalties were suggested, but for all of them it was clear that  it is important to be creative about the type of penalties and not rely only on financial penalty, as for many companies, a fine has less of an impact than perhaps having to publicly disclose what happened around a data breach.

Key Points:

  1. Penalties and offenses by companies vs. rogue agents should be separately addressed in the Bill.
  2. Instead of levying penalties, the Bill should include incentives to ensure compliance.
  3. Penalties for companies should go beyond fines and include mechanisms such as requiring the company to disclose to the public information about the breach.

Discussion: Cultural Aspects of Privacy

The cultural realities of India, and the subsequent impact on the perception of privacy in India were discussed. It was pointed out that India has a history of colonization, multiple religions and languages, ethnic tensions, a communal based society, and a large population. All of these factors impact understandings, perceptions, practices, and the effectiveness of different frameworks around privacy in India. For example, the point was raised that given India’s cultural and political diversity, having a principle based model might be too difficult to enforce as every judge, authority, and regulator will have a different perspective and agenda. Other participants pointed out that there is a lack of awareness around privacy in India, and this will impact the effectiveness of the regulation. It was also highlighted that anecdotal claims that cultural privacy in India is different, such as the fact that in India on a train everyone will ask you personal questions, and thus Indian’s do not have a concept of privacy, cannot influence how a privacy law is framed for India.

Key Points:

  1. India’s diverse culture will impact perceptions of privacy and the implementation of any privacy regulation.
  2. Given India’s diversity, a principle based model might not be adequate.
  3. Though culture is important to understand and incorporate into the framing of any privacy regulation in India, anecdotal stories and broad assumptions about India’s culture and societal norms around privacy cannot influence how a privacy law is framed for India.


The seventh privacy round-table concluded with a conversation on the NSA spying and the Snowden Revelations. It was asked if domestic servers could be an answer to protect Indian data. Participants agreed that domestic servers are just a band aid to the problem. With regards to the Privacy Protection Bill it was clarified that CIS is now in the process of collecting public statements to the Bill and will be submitting a revised version to the Department of Personnel and Training. Speaking to the privacy debate at large, it was emphasized that every stakeholder has an important voice and can impact the framing of a privacy law in India.

The views and opinions expressed on this page are those of their individual authors. Unless the opposite is explicitly stated, or unless the opposite may be reasonably inferred, CIS does not subscribe to these views and opinions which belong to their individual authors. CIS does not accept any responsibility, legal or otherwise, for the views and opinions of these individual authors. For an official statement from CIS on a particular issue, please contact us directly.