Three years since the Supreme Court of India declared right to privacy as a fundamental right, companies and government continue to harass ordinary citizens by using technology to grab personal data without permission.
Airtel’s app caused a furore with its invasive data collection and was forced to roll back; but this only the tip of the iceberg. Everybody from the roadside stall to big corporates to government find ways to scrap or gather your data—usually by stealth.
In Airtel’s privacy case, the company had collected users' personal information and data like genetic information, sexual orientation, racial and ethnic origin, religious and philosophical belief, trade union membership, health data, financial information and political opinion and had shared these with third parties.
"Airtel and its authorised third parties may collect, store, process the following types of sensitive personal information such as genetic data, biometric data, racial or ethnic origin, political opinion, religious and philosophical belief, trade union membership, data concerning health, data concerning natural personal sex life or sexual orientation, password, financial information (details of bank account, credit card, debit card, or other payment instrument details), physiological information for providing our products, services and for use of our website.
"We may also hold information related to your utilisation of our services which may include your call details, your browsing history on our website, location details and additional information provided by you while using our services."
So, is there anything personal information that Airtel is not capturing or wants access to? What is more important is that Airtel is not the only company that is doing all this. Almost everyone out there is trying to breach the privacy of the individual and is trying to gain access to personal information of all users, either by hook or by crook.
Everyone justifies this privacy invasion and collection of personal information 'for the benefit of our customers'. But that is not true. Personal data and information of anyone is too precious in today’s interconnected world and helps to target specific goals. The data and information are used to create a specific profile of an individual. For example, a company may target a specific product or service on the basis of the profile of the individual.
According to the Supreme Court, the right 'to be left alone' represented a manifestation of 'an inviolate personality', the core of freedom and liberty in which the human being had to be free from intrusion.
In its landmark judgement in 2017, the nine-judge bench had stated, "It was rightly expressed on behalf of the petitioners that technology has made it possible to enter a citizen's house without knocking at his or her door and this is equally possible both by the state and non-state actors. It is an individual's choice as to who enters his house, how he lives and in what relationship. The privacy of the home must protect the family, marriage, procreation and sexual orientation which are all important aspects of dignity." (Read: Right to Privacy is fundamental right: SC in an unanimous decision
The ongoing probe by investigation agencies into the alleged use of drugs by Indian movie stars and celebrities has suddenly turned the focus on individual rights and privacy, especially when you use social media and chat apps. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has summoned actor Deepika Padukone and others for questioning based on a WhatsApp chat.
While anything to do with celebrities makes for 24x7 television, it would be naïve to assume that the encroachment into the personal life would not be far worse for ordinary people, with no clout, if they happen to be trapped in a bad situation.
According to Mishi Choudhary, legal director at Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), while India does need a data privacy law urgently, in no way can this address the problems being presented by this case where all citizens’ privacy and security is held to ransom by a few notoriously malicious players. (Read: WhatsApp Leaks, Privacy and Alleged Intrusion by Government
"The generic content of the definitions of what constitutes personal data as laid down by the information technology (IT) Act are expansive, which had been inadvertently put on our website. This was a clerical error," the company had said.
However, for citizens, this is not the end as every company out there is ready to go to any level to breach their privacy and gain access to all their personal information. This means citizens need to be always on a vigil to protect their own privacy and have their own checks & balances in place before sharing any personal information with anyone.