Data can be an asset for governance, growth and public welfare
Data is a critical component for measurable and actionable governance and policy perspectives, as well as for triggering innovation and growth. Data to enhance ease of living and efficiency has been addressed through several Government of India initiatives, including the Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile or JAM trinity, the Open Government Data Platform of India, and the National Judicial Data Grid.
The report by the Committee of Experts on Non-Personal Data Governance Framework, led by the ministry of electronics and information technology (NPD Report), and the Data Empowerment and Protection Architecture (DEPA) paper released by NITI Aayog have built on the concept of data’s benefits. Data as a beneficial good is also covered in the Economic Survey 2019, which proposed that data gathered by governments on issues of social interest ought to be democratised in the interest of social welfare, or made a public good.
The DEPA paper states how the architecture “flows from the Centre’s overarching position that data is primarily an economic good”. Its key goal is empowering individuals with control over their personal data, through a robust and dynamic regulatory, legislative, and institutional framework, supported by technology design for secure data-sharing. DEPA involves regulators across banking, securities, insurance, and pensions — namely, RBI, SEBI, IRDAI, PFRDA and the ministry of finance coming together.
The DEPA platform’s availability as a public good allows market players across the financial and technology ecosystems as well as new entrepreneurs to have the chance to leverage and build on this digital platform. As the paper states, the problem is not that companies are benefiting from the data of individuals; the problem is that individuals and small firms do not benefit. The consent process of DEPA merits special mention, since it takes care of many of the potential concerns.
Data, especially non-personal data, is a vital component for elevating transparency and good governance. The NPD Reportemphasises its importance from a public good perspective. At the intersection of big data and good governance, access to current big data sets also helps provide opportunities to quickly address issues in new technology-led solutions. The report lucidly sets out the “why” and to a large extent, the “how” to accomplish maximum benefit, with enough flexibility within, to accommodate and dynamically adjust to the ground realities from the legal, regulatory, and design principle components. When weighing the risks and rewards of using big data sets for good governance, what needs to remain contextual is that adequate protections are being afforded to the community and individuals. The utility of raw/factual data sets comprising anonymised user information data that is collected is also crucial. The data sharing purpose is extremely relevant for policy on governance.
The recommendation that India should specify a new class of data at a national level, namely data of special public interest or high-value datasets, while also progressively identifying other priority sectors is important. Also insightful is the emphasis on the need for high quality India-relevant data sets in public good sectors to build on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning systems. Meta-data-sharing too will spur innovation on an unprecedented scale and also promote and encourage the development of domestic industry and startups that can scale their data businesses.
To ensure optimum governance outcomes, access to and utilisation of big data is going to be key. This will benefit Indian society from an ease of living perspective. It will also spur the overall achievement of ease of doing business along with world-leading innovation in India. This is what is contemplated by both DEPA and at a more macro-level, the NPD framework. These are important initiatives in this rapidly evolving landscape.
Amitabh Kant is CEO and Desh Gaurav Sekhri Is OSD, NITI Aayog
The views expressed are personal