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Govt isn’t considering ordering private companies to delete vehicle registration, drivers’ license data they bought

The government is not considering to order private companies to delete the driving license and vehicle registration databases that they had purchased from the Road Transport Ministry, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said in Parliament. This, despite the government scrapping the Bulk Data Sharing policy—which allowed it to sell these databases to private companies—last year, over privacy concerns. Before the policy was scrapped, these databases were sold to 108 private entities, including Mercedes, ICICI Lombard and Bajaj Allianz, and in the process, the government pocketed more than Rs 111 crore —Rs 1,11,38,79,757 to be precise.

When the government had decided to scrap the policy, we had pointed out that it should also ensure that data purchased by companies prior to that should not be misused, and the fact that the government isn’t even considering to order these companies to delete the purchased data seems problematic.

“There is a shift in the policy of this Ministry to publish reports specific to industry or stakeholders requirements, and further that there are issues in sharing of the personal information, it was unanimously decided that the ‘Bulk Data Sharing Policy & procedure’ should be scrapped,” the Road Transport Ministry had decided during a meeting with NIC and Home Ministry officials before it scrapped the data sharing policy. Instead, it decided to share reports generated on analysis of the data present with it, and on the basis of the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019.

In September 2019, MediaNama had reported that the government had pocketed Rs 68 crore by selling these databases. This means that in a little over a year since then, the government made more than Rs 43 crore, just by selling Vahan and Sarathi databases.

Why the Bulk Data Sharing policy was problematic: Apart from selling the massive database to companies and educational institutions, the policy also allowed the Ministry to share it with law enforcement agencies. The Vahan database includes things like, registration number of vehicle, engine number, model name, dealer’s name, and financer’s name, among other things. The price of the bulk data for FY 2019-20 was decided to be Rs 3 crore for companies, and Rs 5 lakh for educational institutions. Again, as we had earlier pointed out, the ministry had not held any public consultations before releasing this policy, neither did it go into specific details about the need for it, the demand, nor how it will ensure that the privacy of individuals is conserved.

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  • More so problematically, the Ministry had admitted in the policy that there is a chance of “triangulation” (matching different data-sets that together could enable individuals to be identified and their privacy compromised) of this database to identify a person.

Home Ministry, NATGRID  have access to the databases

Apart from these private companies, the Home Ministry, the National Intelligencer Grid (NATRID), and a flock of police departments in the country, including the Delhi Police, among others have access to the vehicle registration and drivers’ license databases, Gadkari said.

A list of all the entities that have access to the two databases can be found here.

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