As the conversation around privacy grows and matures in India, there is a need for a comprehensive framework that defines the broad contours of the rights that citizens have with respect to this fundamental right, as ascribed by the Supreme Court of India.
Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha, is going to table a private member’s Bill on privacy and data protection, which will include liability of not just the government, but also non-state actors
“I believe passionately that every individual has a right to privacy, and just as no one has a right to walk in on you when you’re dressing, or undressing, similarly no one has a right to walk in on your data which is also a reflection of your private personality,” he told Moneycontrol in an exclusive interaction.
India’s former Minister of State for Human Resource Development said as part of his Bill, he is advocating an independent “privacy commission”, on the lines of the Election Commission, which would be above and beyond politics and would be responsible for monitoring issues such as tapping or intrusions into private lives.
The Bill also takes into account situations where it may be necessary to access a person’s private data, such as a medical emergency, or a criminal offence.
“But we also say that people who collect data this way cannot have the right to store it indefinitely. They can use and maintain that data for as long as the purpose that they’ve collected it for is required,” he said.
However, he said he hasn’t yet made up his mind on the issue of Aadhaar linkage to several government and private services, “simply because the Court is yet to reconcile its own declaration- first saying it’s optional, second, that there is a right to privacy”.
Talking about the increasing role of data analytics and social media in the context of political parties and elections, especially given the role of Cambridge Analytica in the US elections and Brexit, Tharoor said the Congress would not use unauthorised data for elections.
When asked if the Congress has been approached by Cambridge Analytica for the upcoming state elections, he said, “I am not aware of that.”
Calling himself the poster child for intrusion in a public figure’s private life, Tharoor said he feels very strongly that this is wrong. “I think the Supreme Court decision in that regard offers a potential way out- that your privacy is shamelessly violated, that there may be a basis to go to Court and say they’re violating my right to privacy,” he said.
Tharoor also heads the All India Professionals Congress, which “connects professionals to politics,” and said job creation is the biggest challenge in India where more and more young people are entering the workforce.
He emphasised the need to focus on tourism, skill development, and incentives for investors to promote job creation in the country.
Talking about the turning tide on social media platforms for Congress versus the BJP, he said that while online anonymity is empowering for some, it also gives people a free rein to abuse people. The way to deal with it, though, is not to regulate social media platforms, but “take it on the chin and move on”, and engage with the people who are willing to have a decent conversation.
On Rahul Gandhi’s projected elevation to Congress Party’s president, Tharoor said, “I think more interesting is the way in which his own dynamism, his own running around- from Berkeley to Gujarat- has actually captured imaginations, and raised a large number of very positive reactions from the public at large.”