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Make privacy inviolable

Make privacy inviolable
Highlights

After his Facebook caused so much heartburn and indignation worldwide, all that its CEO Mark Zuckerberg did was make an offer of apology. No contrite words flowed nor was there any substantial action to allay concerns of millions of FB users. Netizens mostly do not read fine print and go by the reputation of website, believing privacy would not be breached. They do not mind targeted advertisement,

After his Facebook caused so much heartburn and indignation worldwide, all that its CEO Mark Zuckerberg did was make an offer of apology. No contrite words flowed nor was there any substantial action to allay concerns of millions of FB users. Netizens mostly do not read fine print and go by the reputation of website, believing privacy would not be breached. They do not mind targeted advertisement, though.

Facebook's terms of use leave it open to data harvesting, warn privacy advocates. It is happening to the contrary – the ongoing #deletefacebook movement is a result of this concern. Other sites too may not be lagging far behind. IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad who seeks to put FB on notice should extend the inquiry ambit to all vulnerable sites. In the meantime, subscribers to FB and other social media had better check your privacy settings and take news content with a pinch of salt.

Indians are aghast at the stream of deeply disturbing news that their personal details submitted for Aadhaar are freely available on the net. This despite the UIDAI chief boasting that even world's best supercomputers cannot penetrate the Aadhaar firewalls. The UIDAI has just announced that it would go in for face authentication of all Aadhaar users in addition to the iris and fingerprinting features already with it. This is in a way admitting that the data is not yet impregnable.

Amidst this unsavoury episode broke out an unholy war between Congress and BJP over alleged misuse of data of subscribers to their apps. In the wake of Supreme Court ruling that privacy is a fundamental right, it is incumbent upon government to enact a law that can mandate stringent safety features and anti-tracking measuring for websites found compromising users data. Such a law should protect Indians against illegal and unethical mining of their personal data.

It is time India also set up a separate data regulator to ward off data stealers. Sensitising web users on importance of protecting their privacy and warning against nefarious sites should be an obligation for it. The regulator must be made accountable for its actions, too. It should have means to detect harvesting of personal data under false pretenses. The government must make citizens understand what digital privacy is all about and what it entails.

Personally identifiable information such as one's name, date of birth, address, PAN number, Aadhaar and phone numbers, medical records etc., should not fall into hands of data miners and brokers. This brings one to the present context of Supreme Court hearing on constitutional validity of open-ended claims by government on personal data of citizens.

The court should stall selective targeting or profiling of individuals as well as mass surveillance by the government. It is state interest versus individual privacy. Its ruling will be judged against its historic verdict that, “Right to Privacy is an integral part of the Right to Life and Personal Liberty guaranteed in Article 21 of the Constitution.” Breach of privacy puts at stake the very dignity and safety of the individual, guaranteed by the Constitution.

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