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India-US collaboration is missing the key subject of Data Protection laws

It’s a national embarrassment for both India and the US that they don't have a data privacy law 

The Indian Prime minister Modi is in the US and amongst much fanfare a lot of joint initiatives are being announced. But one area which could have been a major bedrock for a global regulation has not even been touched. On the contrary, both governments are now engaged in regressive moves on this subject - the subject of Personal Data Protection.

TikTok, the popular video-sharing app, has faced bans in several countries, including India, and now there are discussions about a potential ban in the United States as well. The concerns primarily revolve around data privacy and surveillance, with lawmakers pointing out the extensive collection of personal information by TikTok and its Chinese ownership. However, focusing solely on banning TikTok fails to address the broader issue of data privacy and government access to user information.

Banning TikTok might seem like a straightforward solution to protect user data, but it overlooks important factors. Firstly, while TikTok is being singled out, other popular social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter also collect substantial amounts of user data. Secondly, a ban on TikTok alone would not be effective since the Chinese government could potentially access similar information through data brokers, which remain largely unregulated in the US.

To prevent governments from weaponizing user data, a more comprehensive approach is necessary. Instead of resorting to censorship or banning individual apps, governments should focus on passing robust data privacy laws. The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) serves as an example of legislation that limits data collection by companies to only what is necessary to provide requested services. Implementing similar laws would safeguard user privacy and ensure that companies are accountable for their data practices.

Unfortunately, lawmakers are trying to solve the problem by using blanket bans and authoritarian approaches. Part of the reason why they're solving it the wrong way is because their own intentions are not always pristine - while they would want to block Chinese govt from getting access to their citizen's private data, they want this data for themselves so that they can strangulate the rights of their own citizens when they want to suit their own politican and ideological agenda. While certain instances, such as matters of national security, may warrant access to specific data, the solution being sought seems one-sided and fails to consider the potential for government manipulation and abuse of power.

In the case of India, for example, the country is in the process of formulating The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022. However, the bill excludes governments and regulators from its purview, despite evidence indicating that government entities are more susceptible to data breaches compared to private companies. Insufficient cybersecurity competence within government ranks and inadequate investment in cybersecurity make government entities vulnerable to potential data leaks. Therefore, excluding them from data protection responsibilities is a flawed approach.

The ongoing debate surrounding the TikTok ban highlights the need for a more comprehensive and thoughtful approach to data privacy. Banning individual apps or targeting specific companies fails to address the broader issue of data collection and government access to user information. Governments must prioritize the enactment of strong national data privacy laws, taking cues from successful models like the GDPR. 

Only through comprehensive legislation and responsible data practices can individuals' privacy be protected and potential government abuses mitigated. It is essential for policymakers to recognize the need for a balanced approach that upholds citizens' rights while addressing legitimate concerns related to national security and public safety.



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