On our Independence Day this year, the nation will celebrate the silver jubilee of public internet in India. From a modest base, today India has 600 million users and yet more than half the total population is not digitally connected. Digital India programme undertaken by the Modi Government is building the capacity for country wide connectivity infrastructure and wider outreach so that more people find it easy to use digital applications.
One aspect of this growth and digital expansion story is the importance of something called ‘data’ which broadly refers to the content being generated, exchanged and stored. Data has become a powerful word in recent times and will continue to lead the market for all in the future. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in his Howdy Modi event In US last year has termed Data as the new Gold for the world. Also a few leaders and industry captains and experts have compared data as the new oil or even as water.
Data is not only important to industries and verification processes but it is extended to every little thing that we are associated with. Data can be compared as the new oxygen for all the developments starting from individual to the industries and many more. A conglomeration of data resulting in databases with meaningful functions helps in easing out processes and this is what exactly every country is doing in the current world. A data can be personal or non-personal but contains significant contribution towards strengthening the country’s contribution for leading the current affairs. While data is seen today as the dominant tool for determining future course of industrial optimisation, there are also efforts to use this treasure as a means to enhance all experiences and also artificial intelligence. Some sectors like banking and finance are almost seeing generational changes in performance and management with the usage of data technology. Even the defence equipment and the performance is thrusting ahead on data fusion technology in real time. Decision support system across many sectors is being completely relied upon data technology.
India has understood quite early the advantages of data technology and applications and the Prime Minister’s push on harnessing the potential of data technology to solve unique problems of the country has been a motivator for many as could been seen in many of the hackathons. His directions on developing collaborations between various countries of the world had shown his commitment for taking the country forward to identify newer areas of markets beyond the traditional information technology and business process outsourcing that dealt with data at much basic levels. Clearly the domestic and global potential of data is clear in his mind. Thus the current NDA Government has been driving the ecosystem for the digitisation of trade and commerce in the country apart from creating a culture of developmental preparedness in the field of technological advancements and using them for larger societal projects like delivering welfare schemes and benefits to poorer sections. As a result of this harnessing not only systemic efficiency has been obtained but also many of the age old leakages in flagship programmes and pension schemes stopped. Alongwith that, Modi Government’s push to improve the technology development corner and to make India progressive in this field has also resulted in Indian entities providing a stiff competition in the data technology solution ecosystem.
The future of global governance and commerce will be more focused on data and its usage. The global security ecosystem both around defence considerations and basic security management will be purely driven by data technology. Artifical technology and block chain will be the order of the day across sectors. In this situation, besides the larger players, there will be a more enhanced possibility of level playing field where islands of capabilities and their coordinated approach will generate optimal performance. Data opportunities are not only pushing the bigger players but are equally helping the smaller businesses to grow.
India has a big advantage to be a leading player in the data economy on the strength of its technology industry base supporting various industry verticals and also generating a steady export for more than a decade. Continuous advancements in this field are helping the country to mark its presence in the world book across geographies. Data is a major sustenance factor for the increment of many start-ups in the country and all the application based working models fully depends on their data storage for working.
Despite all its advantages and is inevitable prospect, data is a vulnerable commodity and its misuse can be a major concern and is already being feared in many quarters. The possibilities of artificial intelligence to be able to offer tailor made results in no time is causing many societal concerns. Likewise the propensity and possibility of snooping across sovereign borders and gather sensitive and strategic data is also worrisome. Data is a weapon which will make advancements for the country and at the same time can be disastrous. Already the military enhancements with the applications of data technology has been factored by many nations as a serious futuristic risk factor. Cyber attacks on critical infrastructures which contain critical data across borders is already something that is possible and already a few instances of such Missouri has happened. Clearly this data need to be protected in such a way that it contributes to a country’s upliftment and not for its downfall or creating global instability. in the absence of a global binding agreement on cyberspace issues including data, this is a big worry as national as well as non state actors can get away despite causing serious damages and breaches. Most nations have very crude data protection laws for the domestic data as well as for international behaviour.
India however has set to enact a comprehensive data process legislation and regime in the country and the government introduced the Personal Data Protection Bill in the Lok Sabha in December 2019. The Bill is based on the recommendations of the Justice Sri Krishna Committee on how personal data can be secured and now has been referred to a select committee of parliament. The proposed bill emphasised on storing and handling personal data within the country and Cassidy data that can be processed abroad under conditions. It proposes the strict steps the data fiduciary has to follow and also the scrutiny measures to be undertaken by a Data Protection Authority to be set up to deal with the fiduciary as well the overall data protection ecosystem. The focus on individual consent, intermediary roles and stringent penalties for violations are good steps to start with.
Needless to say the future is clearly going to be data driven. Sectors like banking and insurance, defence manufacturing and management, medical systems, network connectivity, power and energy systems which by and large are critical infrastructures will be completely driven by data technology. Even the security industry both defensive and offensive will be data focused. it is this imperative to be on top of the curve- to be able to take advantage of the opportunities as well as be able to secure the infrastructures and usage patterns. Clearly the nation has a wider understanding of the emerging situation and an optimal strategy will drive the national data march forward. The Indian Republic stepping into its 70th year of glorious existence can have a defining mission- to be a secure user as well as secure others around and data can be oil as well as water.
(The writer is a cyber security expert and former country head of General Dynamics)