Making public sector data accessible
By Kamesh Shekar
The draft Data Accessibility and Use Policy recognizes the value of the data departments collect and makes it accessible to the entire ecosystem for economic and social benefits. It will also help start-ups, the research community and businesses to unlock the value of data. While there are a few key elements of the policy that help enable access to public sector data, some of the provisions, if improved, could be leveraged to unlock the maximum potential and purpose of the policy.
The policy proposes to monetize detailed datasets that have undergone added value or transformation while keeping poorly processed datasets freely accessible. In addition, the policy proposes to encourage data sharing by establishing a licensing framework and enabling price discovery using new monetization models. To realize the true value of data, price discovery models must be context-specific instead of a fixed price for all data sets. It is essential to understand that datasets cannot be priced uniformly and that the value of a particular dataset varies depending on the context in which it is used. For example, health data from healthcare providers may be valued differently by government, public health research institutes, and pharmaceutical companies.
The policy envisages establishing an Indian Data Council consisting of India’s chief data officer and data officers from the central government and various states. The Council will then be responsible for defining high-value datasets, facilitating sharing, and acting as an institutional body that promotes data sharing and creates policy. While this is a welcome move, two key things should be noted here.
First, there are various industry regulators and a future Data Protection Authority (once a new Data Protection Bill is introduced and enacted) to govern and regulate data in India. As the India Data Council will constitute data sharing policies, this may conflict with the jurisprudence of other existing and future regulators. Therefore, the Indian Data Council needs to find ways to coordinate with other concerned regulators to ensure consistency in implementation. Second, the policy should ensure that the India Data Council is financially viable and has sufficient capacity to fulfill its mandate by embedding technical and legal experts in the Council.
While consolidating databases and creating access for government to easily find, share and use data is a welcome initiative, at the same time, the Data Sharing Toolkit, which helps government departments and departments to optimally manage the risk of data sharing, should require transparency and accountability from acquirers or individuals to ensure shared data is not misused. In addition, the toolkit should define the procedures for requesting data when the acquiring organization or individuals specify the purpose of the collected data. The toolkit is to help departments ensure that data is only processed for the stated purpose, nothing inconsistent with the specified purpose.
Additionally, as this policy also applies to non-personal data, the toolkit should discuss the harms associated with non-personal data to help departments appropriately monitor their downfall. For example, the interconnection of a set of non-personal (anonymized) data can reveal the identity of individuals due to triangulation and also infringe collective privacy.
Moreover, while the policy talks about data standards, as we move towards open data, it is also essential that the Indian Data Council notifies standards that would ensure the integrity and cleanliness of the data of the sector audience. This becomes crucial as state and non-state actors use public sector data for real-world interventions and applications. Furthermore, it is also essential that the future Indian Data Council develops mechanisms for government departments to access public sector data and audit it periodically to check its quality in terms of integrity and cleanliness.
As India’s digitization trend is growing exponentially, the government’s move to open up public sector data to unlock social and economic benefits is a step in the right direction. As we move forward, the government needs to implement India’s data accessibility and usage policy by improving the draft version by incorporating some of them to unlock maximum potential.
—The author leads the privacy and data governance vertical at Dialogue, a research and public policy think tank