- India has accelerated to a silicon-chip economy: BN Srikrishna
- Absence of data regulation fuelled concern among privacy activists
- "Data-poor India is rapidly becoming a data-rich economy...," he said
Srikrishna is leading the effort to draft new data-privacy laws for India that will regulate how tech giants from the U.S. and elsewhere operate in the nation of 1.3 billion. His recommendations carry particular weight because India is already the biggest market for companies like Facebook Inc. and offers enormous potential for dozens more. The committee Srikrishna helms will send its bill to the government this week.
They're going well beyond the hands-off American approach that preceded fiascoes like the Facebook breach, which facilitated Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, or the Equifax hack, which exposed personal information of about 145 million people. He and his colleagues are determined to modernize the country's standards and protect all citizens.
"India has accelerated from a bail gaadi economy to a silicon-chip economy," said Srikrishna, using the Hindi expression for ox cart. "But privacy and data regulation rules are still far behind."
But this flood of data -- and an absence of regulation -- has fueled concern among privacy activists and citizens groups. That's been aggravated by government practices, including a recent misstep by Andhra Pradesh that inadvertently exposed the demographic and bank details of more than 130,000 people.
"Data-poor India is rapidly becoming a data-rich economy so having a data protection law is critical," said Srikanth Nadhamuni, chief executive officer of startup incubator Khosla Labs and former chief technology officer for Aadhaar.
The 10-member committee he heads -- comprising academics and government officials -- is putting the finishing touches to their bill. The draft will need parliament approval to be enacted.
"Like we keep diabetes and blood pressure in check, controls are needed for data," Srikrishna said. "Companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Flipkart are extremely nervous."
Srikrishna retired in 2006 from the Supreme Court. Since then, he has headed several high-profile commissions, including one investigating government salaries. He believes the average Indian has no idea how much data they're generating or how it's being used. He contends a mere click of an English-language consent form is inadequate in a country with almost two dozen official and hundreds of other languages -- and low literacy.
The biggest challenge according to Srikrishna is not drawing up laws but enforcing them. His own job ends when he submits the draft this week, but he knows that won't be the end of the debate.
He quotes from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, when Mark Antony warns that an act of mischief will disrupt the power of government: "'Now let it work. Mischief thou art afoot, take thou what course thou wilt!"'