Protecting People’s Privacy is Essential to Maintaining Democracy

1 min read
Protecting People’s Privacy is Essential to Maintaining Democracy Blog Image

Why in News?

  • The advent of the big data economy has reshaped the dynamics of elections and individual voting behaviours, presenting both advantages and drawbacks.
  • With general elections due in two months, it is important to look into the transformative impact of massive datasets on political landscapes.
  • It is equally crucial to understand the implications for privacy, and the urgent need for robust data protection measures, particularly in the context of upcoming elections in India.

Concerns Surrounding Big Data Influence on Elections

  • Micro-Targeting and Customisation
    • Big data empowers political campaigns to engage in micro-targeting, a strategy that involves tailoring messages and campaign content to specific demographics or even individual voters.
    • Through the analysis of vast datasets, candidates gain insights into voters' preferences, behaviours, and opinions, allowing for highly customised outreach efforts.
    • This level of personalisation extends across various communication channels, including bulk SMS, audio calls, and social media platforms.
  • Opacity and Lack of Informed Consent
    • A significant concern arising from the use of big data in elections is the lack of transparency regarding the collection, processing, and utilisation of personal information.
    • Voters often remain in the dark about the existence of databases containing detailed personal information, and the extent to which their data is utilised for political purposes.
    • The notion of informed consent becomes elusive, as individuals are typically unaware of how their data is being harnessed and are consequently unable to exercise control over its usage.
  • Amplification of Power Dynamics and Political Influence
    • The abundance of data amplifies the power of political entities to influence voters through targeted messaging and strategic communication.
    • Candidates can craft narratives that resonate with specific groups, addressing issues and concerns tailored to the demographics discerned from data analysis.
    • This sophisticated targeting extends beyond surface-level attributes like age and location, delving into nuanced aspects such as personal likes, dislikes, ideological leanings, and habits.
  • Potential for Manipulation and Exploitation
    • While big data offers undeniable benefits in terms of campaign efficiency and targeted communication, the dark side lies in the potential for manipulation and exploitation.
    • Unscrupulous practices, such as the strategic dissemination of misinformation tailored to exploit specific voter sentiments, can undermine the integrity of the electoral process.
    • The asymmetry of information between political entities and voters exacerbates the potential for undue influence, raising ethical concerns surrounding privacy invasion and democratic principles.

Understanding the Social Media and Network Effect and Its Implications

  • The Network Effect
    • The network effect, a concept central to social media platforms, refers to the increasing value and utility of a network as more users join it.
    • Individuals are drawn to platforms with larger user bases due to the enhanced potential for connectivity, content creation, and interaction.
  • Enhanced Data Collection and User Profiling
    • Social media platforms thrive on the collection of personal data, creating detailed profiles that extend beyond apparent attributes like age and location.
    • Users generate a wealth of information through their interactions, allowing platforms to collect insights into individual preferences, behaviours, and affiliations.
    • This extensive data collection is a cornerstone of the business models of social media platforms, facilitating targeted advertising and personalized content delivery.
  • Opaqueness of Data Collection Practices
    • Users are often uninformed about the extent and granularity of data collected, raising concerns about the invasion of privacy and the potential misuse of personal information.
    • The lack of transparency contributes to a scenario where individuals have little control over how their data is utilised.
  • Algorithmic Decision-Making and Personalisation
    • The algorithms that underpin social media platforms play a crucial role in shaping users' experiences.
    • Algorithms use collected data to determine what content is presented to users, creating personalised feeds that cater to individual preferences.
    • While personalisation enhances user satisfaction, it also raises concerns about the potential for algorithmic biases and the selective presentation of information.
  • Monetisation and Commercial Exploitation
    • Social media platforms leverage the data collected from users for monetisation purposes, either by selling the data directly or by using it to offer personalized ads.
    • The extensive profiling of users enables advertisers to precisely target their audience, maximizing the effectiveness of advertising campaigns.
    • This commercial exploitation of personal data has economic benefits for the platforms but raises ethical concerns about the commodification of user information.

Scrutiny and Awareness Post 2016 US Presidential Election

  • The revelations surrounding the misuse of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica after the 2016 U.S. presidential election heightened public awareness about the implications of social media data exploitation.
  • Users became more cognizant of the potential risks associated with extensive data sharing on these platforms, leading to calls for increased transparency and privacy safeguards.
  • Governments and regulatory bodies also intensified their scrutiny of social media companies and their data practices.

Critical Flaws in Indian Data Protection Act

  • Absence of Clear Limitations on the Govt's Powers to Access Data: This raises concerns about potential misuse and undermines the fundamental principle of protecting citizens from unwarranted surveillance.
  • Lack of Independence for Data Protection Board
    • Without proper checks and balances, the effectiveness of the board is compromised, and it may become susceptible to external pressures.
    • Reports of the Madhya Pradesh Chief Information Commissioner withholding information under the pretext of the Data Protection Act, which is not yet in force, highlight the confusion and potential misuse during this transitional phase.
    • The absence of a functional Data Protection Board worsens the challenges, as individuals lack a proper channel for seeking redressal for privacy violations.
  • Absence of Important Actionable Rights
    • Individual rights are not adequately addressed, with a notable absence of essential rights such as the right to compensation.
    • This limitation diminishes the ability of individuals to seek redress for privacy violations.

Way Forward

  • Opportunity for Mitigation and Meaningful Privacy Protection
    • The imminent rules that are set to guide the implementation of the Data Protection Act present an opportunity to mitigate the identified flaws and meaningfully protect privacy.
    • Stakeholder engagement, including multi-stakeholder consultations, must be prioritised to ensure a diverse range of perspectives is considered.
  • Prioritise Impact on Individuals
    • The rules must prioritise the impact on individuals, placing their rights and privacy at the forefront of the regulatory framework.
    • Consultation processes should be sustained, inclusive, and receptive to feedback, ensuring that the concerns of various stakeholders are addressed.
  • Necessity for Legislative Changes
    • While the rules can serve as corrective measures, the necessity for legislative changes to address foundational flaws, including government powers and Data Protection Board independence, cannot be overlooked.
    • Striking a balance between feasibility and inclusivity is crucial to avoiding rushed amendments that may compromise the integrity of the data protection framework.


  • As India braces for elections, there is a necessity of a people-centric data protection regime that balances the benefits of digitization with safeguarding privacy and democratic principles.
  • The importance of inclusive and rights-based models to navigate the challenges posed by the big data landscape, ensuring a resilient and equitable digital future can not be overlooked.

Q1) What are some changes made to the Data Protection Bill?

One important change in the final version of the Bill relates to how it handles the transfer of data across different countries. It has moved away from a whitelisting approach, to a blacklisting mechanism. The bill allows global data flows by default to all jurisdictions other than a specified negative list of countries where such transfers would be restricted. The draft, released in November, said the Central government will notify countries or territories where personal data of Indian citizens can be transferred. A provision on “deemed consent” in the previous draft has been reworded to make it stricter for private entities. 

Q2) How will the new law on data protection affect the RTI Act?

In the version of the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill cleared for introduction in Parliament, there exists a section that would eliminate the majority of Section 8(1)(j) of the 2005 law. According to that section, personal information cannot be disclosed under the RTI Act “which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information”. The data Bill would remove all these caveats, prohibiting government agencies from sharing private information of any kind, regardless of the public interest it may entail.

Source: The Indian Express