Centre for Internet & Society

Considering India is rapidly moving towards a digital economy, the hurdles not withstanding, data and identity security are topics which have to be taken very seriously. Since the demonetisation, a large part of the population who would never bother with digital transactions has suddenly come online. But there is no such thing as complete security of personal data, according to Nasscom chief R Chandrashekhar.

This was published by First Post on March 16, 2017. Pranesh Prakash was quoted.

Attending the World Consumer Rights Day, R Chandrashekhar said that personal data of online consumers cannot be completely secure and stressed on the need to have strict enforcement of consumer protection laws. Speaking to PTI, Chandrashekhar said, “More than 3 million credit card data details were misused recently. Let us face it, these kind of security breaches will take place. There is nothing called fully perfect security in IT.”

It’s high time we call a spade, a spade

Image: PIB
R Chandrashekhar, President Nasscom. Image: PIB

Coming from the head of Nasscom, this announcement pertaining to security is very important. According to Chandrashekhar one cannot expect complete cyber security, but there are definitely ways in which such attacks and incidents can be minimised. He very rightly said that that protecting the online consumer data, specially looking at how rapidly e-commerce is growing in the country, is of prime importance.

One cannot help but agree with Chandrashekhar, specially considering the fact India does not have a privacy law ecosystem that is present in countries such as the US and the UK, where online consumer protection is taken very seriously. Germany and other EU nations have always been at the forefront, when it comes to protecting data privacy, and it has ensured that consumer-facing technology companies do not run roughshod when it comes to protecting user data.

Chandrashekhar stated that there was no need for separate regulations for e-commerce sites, but the priority was ensuring means to enforce consumer laws in the digital world.

Lack of dedicated privacy laws

According to cyberlaw and cybersecurity expert, Pavan Duggal, “Going forward, there is an urgent need for India to take a strong view on privacy in terms of legislative frameworks. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, India does not have a dedicated law on privacy.”

Image: Foamy Media
Image: Foamy Media

Social media websites for instance have a lot of user data. But what happens when they suddenly change their privacy policies? For instance, a lot of users signed on to WhatsApp when it was an independent company. But post the Facebook acquisition, there have been a lot of instances where WhatsApp has updated its terms and conditions to suit its parent Facebook.

That’s not completely illegal one may say. Loss of privacy is a price you pay for free services. But what if, I as a consumer of WhatsApp do not want the app to share any of my data with Facebook? The only option I am left with is to delete WhatsApp. But then again, I do not know if my data is also deleted from WhatsApp servers or it has already been shared. Social media apps, only let you know what updates are being added. Consent is only required to update the app. You can stall that, up to a point. But there will come a time when you will have to update an app. Then by default you have given approval to all the terms and conditions associated with the app.

Two students had challenged WhatsApp’s revision to its privacy policy before Delhi High Court. The Court dismissed the petition insisting that users could opt out by deleting their accounts.

When a similar challenge was mounted before the authorities in UK, Facebook had to put a pause on their data sharing – and this was because of its strong data protection policy. Under the UK data protection law, the company has to inform the authority established under the Act of any changes in the use of user data. In the case of WhatsApp, the UK authority objected to such sharing.

Aadhaar – the 12-digit biometric storehouse


Aadhaar card is being used for many financial and non financial transactions. Also the Aadhaar number associated with an individual also holds a lot of personal and biometric data. So when recently, there was news about a possible Aadhaar data breach when UIDAI filed a police complaint against Axis Bank, business correspondent Suvidhaa Infoserve and e-sign provider eMudhra, it was naturally a shock to many.

Unlike a password which can be changed, with biometric information there is no scope to do that if it is compromised. Although UIDAI claims that there are multiple levels of security and firewalls to ensure there is no breach of Aadhaar information of an individual, one can only hope that it is robust enough to withstand any attack. Collection of biometric data by the government to form a database, for instance, was debated and ultimately not used in the UK.

Pranesh Prakash, policy director of the Centre for Internet and Society, expressed concern about the pace at which we are progressing when it comes to having a legal and regulatory framework when it comes to the Digital India push. “While the security architecture of Aadhaar Enabled Payment Systems (AEPS) might in itself be good, the idea of providing your fingerprints to merchants for financial transactions is a terrible idea since that is like asking you to give your bank password to a merchant, and the merchant can reuse that password, and you can’t ever change the password,” said Prakash.

Enforcing the correct processes

Last year, a malware affected the systems of Hitachi Payment Services, which provides back end services to ATM machines and Point of Sale nodes across India. As a result of this, around 32 lakh debit cards were compromised including those issued by SBI, HDFC, Yes Bank, Axis, BOB and ICICI. Security experts and consultants have pointed out various holes in the electronic transaction systems in place in India. Intel has also warned that ATM machines in India are vulnerable to malicious attacks. Intel points out that countries in the Asia Pacific region are developing and are particularly vulnerable because of old systems and machines being used.

Image: REUTERS/Amit Dave

Image: REUTERS/Amit Dave

According to Mahesh Patel, president and group CTO, AGS Transact Technologies this was more of a governance issue of the data centre than any technical error. “It is not about the software, but it is about the processes and procedures you put in place to ensure that the system is secure. Everything from physical security to computing security to admin management, etc should be process driven. So somewhere there could have been a weak link there. Cloud has to be secure and encrypted which suffices the use case of payments. This cloud is different from the ones used by e-commerce sites to display all their products,” said Patel.

We may have the best of software and security measures, but ensuring that they are implemented the right way is equally important. Plugging the loopholes in current regulations is also important.

Existing laws and regulations, not enough

According to Duggal, “The Information Technology Act, 2000 hardly has effective provisions to protect any data and personal privacy in the digital ecosystem. The Indian Government needs to come up with strong privacy law which can protect both personal privacy and data privacy in an effective manner.”

One may find it really shocking to hear the head of Nasscom saying something to the extent that full data protection for online consumers is not possible, but there is definitely truth to the matter. It will require concerted efforts from not only regulators, governments, digital wallet players and banking industry to come up with these privacy laws, but also you the consumer has to ensure that you are aware of the dangers lurking in the digital world. Educating oneself of the various ways in which your data can be compromised is a good way to protect your online self.

Because, let’s face it, for all practical purposes if you are online, your privacy is dead.