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How Google’s ‘responsible data protection’ framework matches up to India’s

Google’s chief privacy officer Keith Enright on Monday posted Google’s guidelines (pdf) for regulators to enact data protection rules. The post came a week before India’s IT ministry ends its public consultation for the Srikrishna committee’s data protection bill. “This framework helps Google evaluate legal proposals and advocate for smart, interoperable, and adaptable data protection regulations,” the document says. The document is similar to Access Now’s lengthier do’s and don’ts briefer (pdf) for lawmakers.

Here’s how Google’s recommendations match up to the Srikrishna committee’s bill.

Data collection and transparency

Google’s principles

Collect and use personal information responsibly.
Organizations must operate with respect for individuals’ interests when they process personal information. They must also take responsibility for using data in a way that provides value to individuals and society and minimizes the risk of harm based on the use of personal information (i.e., data that can be linked to a person or personal device).

Mandate transparency and help individuals be informed.
Organizations must be transparent about the types of personal information they collect, why
they collect it, and how they use or disclose it, particularly when used to make decisions about the individual. Regulators should encourage organizations to actively inform individuals about data use in the context of the services themselves, helping to make the information relevant and actionable for individuals.

The Data Protection Bill’s provisions

The Data Protection bill requires strict standards of consent for data collection.

But on transparency, the bill is less than forthcoming on data subjects’ rights. Users can’t access a copy of data stored about them, but are entitled to a summary of what data is stored, and how it is being processed, under Section 24(1).

Purpose limitation and data correction

Google’s principles

Place  reasonable  limitations  on  the  manner  and  means  of  collecting,  using,  and  disclosing  personal information.
Collection and use of personal information can create beneficial and innovative services, within a framework of appropriate limits to the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information to ensure processing occurs in a manner compatible with individuals’ interests and social benefits.

Maintain the quality of personal information. 
Organizations should make reasonable efforts to keep personal information accurate, complete, and up-to-date to the extent relevant for the purposes for which it is maintained. Data access and correction tools, as mentioned below, can assist organizations in meeting this obligation.

Define personal information flexibly to ensure the proper incentives and handling.
The scope of legislation should be broad enough to cover all information used to identify a specific user  or  personal  device  over  time and data connected to those identifiers, while encouraging the  use of less-identifying and less risky data where suitable. The law should clarify whether and how each  provision  should  apply,  including  whether  it applies to aggregated information, de-identified  information, pseudonymous information or identified information.

Give  individuals  the  ability  to  access,  correct,  delete  and  download  personal  information about  them.
Individuals  must  have  access  to personal information they have provided to an organization, and  where practical, have that information corrected, deleted, and made available for export in a machine-readable format. This not only empowers individuals, it also keeps the market innovative, competitive, and open to new entrants.

The Data Protection Bill’s provisions

Under Section 5(2), “Personal data shall be processed only for purposes specified or for any other incidental purpose that the data principal would reasonably expect the personal data to be used for, having regard to the specified purposes, and the context and circumstances in which the personal data was collected.” (emphasis added)

Under Section 25, data subjects have the right to correct their data, and if data controllers have a problem with any updating requests, they must inform the subject in writing why with a reason. Personal data is very broadly defined in the bill, which is in opposition with Google’s principle. Here’s the definition: personal data is defined as any “data about or relating to a natural person who is directly or indirectly identifiable, having regard to any characteristic, trait, attribute or any other feature of the identity of such natural person, or any combination of such features, or any combination of such features with any other information”.

Right to object to processing and data security

Google’s principles

Make it practical for individuals to control the use of personal information.
Organizations  must  provide  appropriate  mechanisms  for  individual  control,  including  the  opportunity to object to data processing where feasible in the context of the service. This does not require  a  specific  consent  or  toggle  for  every  use  of  data;  in  many  cases,  the  processing  of  personal information is necessary to simply operate a service. Similarly, requiring individuals to control  every  aspect  of  data  processing  can  create a complex experience that diverts attention from the most important controls without corresponding benefits.

Include requirements to secure personal information. 
Organizations  must implement reasonable precautions to protect personal information from loss, misuse, unauthorized access, disclosure, modification, and destruction, and should expeditiously notify  individuals  of  security  breaches  that  create  significant  risk  of  harm.  Baseline  precautions  should apply to any collection of personal information, and additional measures should account for and be proportionate to the risk of harm. 

The Data Protection Bill’s provisions

The Data Protection Bill does not have a right to object to processing.

The bill implements data security requirements through audits conducted by mandatory data auditors and penalties on those who are not compliant with the standards set out by the Data Protection Authority of India.

Compliance and harm

Google’s principles

Hold organizations accountable for compliance. 
Accountability can and should come in many forms. Lawmakers and regulators should set baseline requirements  and  enable  flexibility  in  how  to  meet  those  requirements.  Industry  accountability  programs and safe harbors can incentivize best practices, particularly in providing more flexible approaches to dealing with evolving technologies.

Focus on risk of harm to individuals and communities.
Regulators  should  encourage  the  design  of  products  to  avoid  harm  to  individuals  and  communities. Enforcement and remedies should be proportional to the potential harms involved in the  violation.  Innovative  uses  of  data  shouldn’t  be  presumptively  unlawful  just  because  they  are  unprecedented, but organizations must account for and mitigate potential harms. This includes taking  particular  care  with  sensitive  information  that  can  pose  a  significant  risk.  To  enable  organizations to develop effective mitigations, regulators should be clear about what constitutes a harm.

Apply the rules to all organizations that process personal information.
Data is increasingly important through all sectors of the modern economy.  Aside from the context  of particular relationships that have existing rules, like with one’s employer or attorney, legislation should  apply  to  all  economic  sectors  and  all  types  of  organizations  that  process  personal  information. While certain sectors (e.g., healthcare) may have additional rules, regulation should set  a  baseline  for  all  organizations.  The  application  of  the  law should also take into account the  resource constraints of different organizations, encouraging new entrants and diverse and innovative approaches to compliance.

The Data Protection Bill’s provisions

Here, Google seems to be asking for flexibility that the draft bill does not seem to be encouraging. There are stiff penalties for data leaks, and the penalty is decided by the Data Protection Authority of India — even criminal penalties may apply.

The Adjudicating Officer, who represents the DPAI, will determine whether harm was caused or if a data controller violated provisions. These conditions aren’t always met simultaneously — a data breach may not rise up to legal standards of harm, though it will most likely run afoul of the draft law. So this gives DPAI the flexibility in deciding penalties, as opposed to the data controller. The law also has an exemption on some data protection requirements for small entities, which are defined as those who don’t process more than hundred users’ data each day.

Enforcement and localisation

Google’s principles

Distinguish direct consumer services from enterprise services. 
Much processing of personal information is done by one company on behalf of another, where the processor  lacks  legal  authority  to  make  independent  decisions  about  how  to  use  the  data  or  operate outside the bounds of the client’s direction. Sometimes this distinction is described as “processors”  versus  “controllers”,  allowing  for  the  efficient  use  of  vetted,  qualified  vendors  with  minimal additional compliance costs, which is particularly important for smaller entities. Processors  can  look  to  the  controller  to  meet  certain  obligations  under  the  law,  including  transparency, control, and access, but processors must still meet basic programmatic and security responsibilities.

Design  regulations  to  improve  the  ecosystem  and  accommodate  changes  in  technology  and  norms.
The  technology  involved  in  data  processing  is  not  static,  and  neither are the social norms about  what is private and how data should be protected. A baseline law can provide clarity, while ongoing reviews  (e.g.,  rulemakings,  codes  of  conduct,  administrative  hearings)  can  provide  more  flexible  and detailed guidance that can be updated without wholesale restructuring of the legal framework. Governments  can  support  these  goals  by  rewarding  research,  best  practices,  and  open-source  frameworks. Creating incentives for organizations to advance the state of the art in privacy protection promotes responsible data collection and use.

Apply geographic scope that accords with international norms.
Data  protection  law  should hew to established principles of territoriality, regulating businesses to  the extent they are actively doing business within the jurisdiction. Extra-territorial application unnecessarily  hampers  the  growth  of  new  businesses  and  creates  conflicts  of  law  between  jurisdictions. In particular, small businesses shouldn’t have to worry about running afoul of foreign regulators merely because a few people from another country navigate to their website or use their service.

Encourage global interoperability. 
Mechanisms  allowing  for  cross-border  data  flows  are  critical  to  the  modern  economy.  Organizations benefit from consistent compliance programs based on widely shared principles of data  protection.  Countries  should  adopt  an integrated framework of privacy regulations, avoiding  overlapping or inconsistent rules whenever possible. Regulators should avoid conflicting and unpredictable  requirements,  which  lead  to  inefficiency  and  balkanization  of  services  and  create  confusion in consumer expectations. In particular, geographic restrictions on data storage undermine  security,  service  reliability,  and  business  efficiency.  Privacy  regulation  should support  cross-border data transfer mechanisms, industry standards, and other cross-organization cooperation mechanisms that ensure protections follow the data, not national boundaries. 

The Data Protection Bill’s provisions

The data protection bill does not draw a line between enterprise and consumer services. As such, penalties remain the same, especially since the definition of personal data is still broad. The principle on designing regulations that ‘improve the ecosystem and accommodate changes in technology and norms’ is something that the bill doesn’t seem to address; it’s something that the government might proactively attempt; rewarding research and open-source frameworks is something the government has a mixed record on.

As for encouraging global interoperability, this is where Google and the Indian government’s approach diverge most significantly. The draft bill as well as the leaked e-commerce policy draft recommend different degrees of localisation of personal data. At the very least, at least one copy of data needs to be stored in India according to the Data Protection Bill. Google CEO Sundar Pichai has personally written to the IT Ministry to encourage them to allow cross-border data flows.

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