Centre for Internet & Society

Rules for protection of personal data in the telecom space are not sufficient, regulator TRAI said today while suggesting that consumers be given the right to choice, consent and to be forgotten to safeguard their privacy.

This was published by Bloomberg Quint on July 16, 2018. Pranesh Prakash was interviewed.

Recommending a series of measures of "privacy, security and ownership of data in telecom networks", the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India held that consumers are owners of their data and that entities controlling, processing their information are "mere custodians and do not have primary rights over this data".

"The Right to Choice, Notice, Consent, Data Portability, and Right to be Forgotten should be conferred upon the telecommunication consumers," TRAI recommended to the Department of Telecom. In order to ensure sufficient choices to the users of digital services, granularities in the consent mechanism should be built-in by the service providers, the regulator added.

TRAI has suggested that all entities in the digital ecosystem including telecom operators should transparently disclose the information about the privacy breaches on their websites along with the actions taken for mitigation, and preventing such breaches in future.

“This is the first time I’ve seen TRAI being bold enough to venture into this area,” said Pranesh Prakash, a policy director at the Centre for Internet Society. “There are many positives here in terms of the data protection regime that they want to set up,” he told BloombergQuint in an interview. “It talks about user choice, consent, about notice being mandatory and simplified in language that people understand rather than two hundred pages of legal forms.”

There are many things in it that law and technology nerds will rejoice over, for example, the need for greater amounts of encryption and asks DoT to revisit the limitations it has put on encryption because those limitations actually harm national security and user privacy.

Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director, Centre for Internet Society

Here are the highlights from the TRAI’s recommendation:

  • All entities in the digital ecosystem, which control or process the data, should be restrained from using meta-data to identify the individual users.
  • A study should be undertaken to formulate the standards for annonymisation/de-identification of personal data generated and collected in the digital eco-system.
  • Till such time a general data protection law is notified by the government, the existing rules/licence conditions applicable to TSPs for protection of users' privacy be made applicable to all the entities in the digital ecosystem.
  • The Right to Choice, Notice, Consent, Data Portability, and Right to be forgotten should be conferred upon the telecommunication consumers.
  • Data Controllers should be prohibited from using "preticked boxes" to gain users consent. Clauses for data collection and purpose limitation should be incorporated in the agreements.
  • Sharing of information concerning to data security breaches should be encouraged and incentivised to prevent/mitigate such occurrences in future.

The recommendations from TRAI come at a time when there are rising concerns around privacy and safety of user data, especially through mobile apps and social media platforms.

The regulator had issued a consultation paper entitled Privacy, Security and Ownership of Data in the Telecom Sector on Aug 9 last year and an open house discussion was held on Feb. 2. The TRAI had also invited comments and counter comments as part of the consultation.

(With inputs from PTI)