August , 2017
Privacy and Big Data
15:10 pm

Buroshiva Dasgupta

The Supreme Courts 547 page-long judgement on privacy is not just a legal landmark; its a learned document, well-referenced, on how information technology today, if not properly controlled, can be a palpable threat to human life and freedom. The judgement on one hand has reversed its earlier positions on privacy and on the other - through a detailed analysis of American, European and Indian laws - established how privacy can never be separated from fundamental ideas of human freedom and liberty.

The judgement goes back to Aristotle, John Stuart Mill and to global constitution makers to establish the evolution of the idea of individual privacy against state intrusion. It even quotes from modern journals of international law to define nine differentkinds of privacies: bodily privacy, spatial privacy, communi-cational privacy, proprietary privacy, intellectual privacy, decisional privacy, associational privacy and behavioural privacy. Overarching them allis the informational privacy which gives one the power to decide upon the extent of access or the dissemination of information about oneself.

The controversy as to how far the state can intrude upon the individual privacy may have become popular in India with the governments insistence of the Aadhar card. But the judgement goes beyond the issue. In fact, the Supreme Court justifies the governments reasons for collection and storage of data. Apart from national security, the judgement says, data mining with the object of ensuring that resources are properly deployed to legitimate beneficiaries is a valid ground for the state to insist on the collection of authentic data. But it also warns that the data collected should not be utilised unauthorizedly for extraneous purposes - like state surveillance.

But the Supreme Court is more concerned with themisuseof big data by non-state actors, like those in the social media. The judgement says, “Something interesting is happening. Uber knows our whereabouts and the places we frequent. Facebook at the least knows who we are friends with. Alibabaknows our shopping habits. Airbnb knows where we are travelling to. Social network providers, search engines, email service providers, messaging applications are all furtherexamples of non-state actors that have extensive knowledgeof our movements, financial transactions, conversationsboth personal and professional, health, mental state, interest, travel locations fares and shopping habits. As we move towards becoming a digital economy and increase our reliance on internet based services, we are creating deeper and deeperdigital footprintspassively and actively.”

This is the age ofbig data’. Social media has not just created a huge amount of data but has also led to creation of new methodsof analysing the data. Google, Facebook, Amazon store our searches and analyse them. “Targeted advertisingis their main model of revenue. The Court is particularly concerned with the protection of children who today  learn theirABCs differently  from the net  24X7Apple, Bluetooth, Chat  followed by Download, Email, Facebook, Google, Hotmail and Instagram. They could be targeted not just in the virtual world but in their real world too for their naivetéand online mistakes. The social media has strengthened the terrorist networks too.

The Indian Supreme Courts judgement on privacy will have far-reaching consequences, not just for the Indian government but globallyin politics and in business.

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