Data protection: DoT may be stricter than Srikrishna panel

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On the Telecom industry’s long-standing demand for rationalisation of taxes and levies, the secretary said DoT has clarified that it’s not about revenue maximisation, but revenue optimisation. (IE)

With Telecom operators being the largest handlers of data, including sensitive personal information, Telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan has said that security and protection here is paramount and hence operators may have stricter data protection regulations compared to those recommended by the BN Srikrishna panel.

She, however, stressed that the sector already has clear provisions that data must be stored only in India. There are also strong provisions as to who can have access to data under what conditions.

“Since mobile is fast becoming an important factor for social media, financial payments, Aadhar authentication, etc, the department of Telecommunications (DoT) will have to take a holistic look at the issue. As long as it is pure content, there are provisions in the IT Act, but there may be some areas where assistance would be required. Telecom is one of the biggest data processors, a fiduciary, hence extreme care needs to be taken about data security policies,” Sundararajan told FE.

“Since a lot of data is travelling through Telecom pipes and because Telecom Companies and service providers are such large collectors of data, all principles in the data protection law will be applicable here, plus some more. For us, security is paramount. So what this means is that for Telecom, we may even have to provide higher rules of protection for the individual. We have got a set of recommendations on data ownership from Trai and we will see what else needs to be done,” she added.

The Justice Srikrishna committee on data protection, which submitted its report to the government on July 27, has said privacy has become a burning issue and, therefore, every effort has to be made to protect data at any cost. The report straddles three aspects — citizens, the state and the industry.

On the next course of action for the recommendations made by the high-level panel, Sundararajan said it has gone to the government, which will now examine it. “The government may like to call experts or do its own consultation. We will know when it will go to the Cabinet,” she said.

On the Telecom industry’s long-standing demand for rationalisation of taxes and levies, the secretary said DoT has clarified that it’s not about revenue maximisation, but revenue optimisation. The government has also made commitments in the National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP) on revenue rationalisation.

On the time frame for NDCP, she said the department will follow it up immediately after it is cleared by the Cabinet. “We will be having committees, as we will have to consult the finance ministry,” Sundararajan added.

When asked about the talks on a unified levy in place of licence fee, spectrum usage charge and contribution to universal service obligation fund (USOF), Sundararajan said, “We have to look at it. We had one to two high-level discussions, but not at the operative level. But we will be discussing it”.

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