Source: The Hitavada      Date: 28 Aug 2018 14:54:29

THE idea behind Digital India is creating an inclusive and empowered society that will form a major stake in India’s all-round development. Digitalisation is getting a major push in all sectors through various government initiatives in the last few years as it is one of the pet projects of the current dispensation at the Centre. But recent developments in various developed and developing democracies, where users’ data security was compromised by a few agencies with vested interests, have rung alarm bells.

In this backdrop, Union Minister of Communication and Information Technology Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad’s assertion that data misuse of social media platforms will never be allowed to abuse the election process comes as a relief as well as a caution. Relief is for the “serious note” taken by the Government to deal with the problem and caution is for the ever-lurking danger of data privacy being assaulted by the dark underbelly of Internet.

A developed democracy like the United States saw criminal harvesting of personal data of voters during the Presidential elections, allegedly by political consultancy company Cambridge Analytica. Oxford University’s Prof. Philip Howard has already raised concerns of Russian hackers planning to interfere in Indian election process using social media platforms. With 2019 general elections round the corner, data misuse through social media becomes an imminent threat that needs to be neutralised through some robust steps.

Mr. Prasad has vowed to thwart misuse of social media platform data to abuse election process for extraneous means. India’s digital infrastructure has over 1.20 billion mobile phones and nearly 500 million Internet and broadband subscribers. Protecting such huge volume of private data needs a tight cybersecurity and mechanism for its constant upgrading, given the newer ways cybercriminals are finding to breach firewalls through different malwares. The recent incident of hackers siphoning off over Rs. 90 crore off Cosmos Bank by creating proxy server is a ready pointer of what flawed software geniuses are capable of.

The world of Internet comes with an anonymity that is very difficult to track for investigating agencies. In fact, Digital Battlefield has become a new war-front which needs a dedicated command of experts in the field. Cyber mediums are being used to spread radical thoughts, creating discord and violence in the society. Fake WhatsApp messages generated from foreign soil were the root cause behind lynching of people, who were mistaken as child lifters in various parts of the country. This is the dark side of the cyber world which has taken over almost every aspect of human life -- from grocery to education.

True, the cyber world opens up unlimited potential for unhindered communication, trade and commerce. But this can be positively nurtured only if the cyberspace is safe. The Government has already taken steps to ensure data privacy, which has been exposed for misuse especially for electoral gains. After the Cambridge Analytica embarrassment, social media companies, too, have initiated measures to guard users’ privacy. All the social media platforms have been put under Government scanner and with the Supreme Court, too, upholding the right to privacy it has become imperative for companies like WhatsApp and Facebook to get their houses in order.

Data privacy is a primary obligation of the State. The US and China have strict data protection laws. Though China’s approach has been criticised for linking protection of data to national security risks, it is now being seen as a prudent step by the world community. India would do itself a big good by implementing the Justice Srikrishna Committee report on free and fair digital economy and give the country a data protection law it deserves.