Let privacy rules not stifle Digitial India and the accompanying growth of India’s economy

Online contracts include click-wrap contracts used for online transactions of both tangible and non-tangible goods and services. While the benefits of information and communication technology (ICT) are immense, collection, use and sharing of personal data are an essential requirement to avail these benefits. European laws on the protection of personal data, based on the OECD guidelines, are one of the most stringent. Last year, two students of law filed a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging WhatsApp’s updated terms and conditions, including its privacy policy. It doesn’t require much user data to run its service. Yet these apps also provide very useful services. People have a choice which apps to use. The outcome of the WhatsApp case will have far-reaching effect on the future of Digital India. If the ruling were to have the effect of making such contracts more difficult to establish, it could change the fundamental legal system that has enabled the Internet to flourish. India is at the cusp of a powerful digital revolution, with rapidly growing smartphone usage and strategic government policies that promote a vibrant economy.

By Kuldip Singh & TV Ramachandran

The Internet has revolutionised the way modern society lives, interacts with each other, shares information and conducts its business.

At first, it was only for the use of government and scientific organisations. But as the Internet welcomed people and businesses, it created a marketplace of ideas that generated enormous economic growth all over, especially in India. Digital India, which is moving at breakneck speed, promises to accelerate this revolution.

Online e-contracts are increasingly the only way to carry out transactions on the Internet. The Information Technology Act, 2000, provides the legal framework for electronic records, digital signatures and online contracts. Online contracts include click-wrap contracts used for online transactions of both tangible and non-tangible goods and services. The users are typically required to click on a button that says, ‘I agree’, ‘I do not agree’, ‘I accept’, etc.

On affirming acceptance by clicking on the relevant button, the user is allowed to use the site and services, and is bound by the terms and conditions of the usage. Many enduser licence agreements (EULA) for use of software and popular applications are based on such click-wrap or web-wrap contracts.

While the benefits of information and communication technology (ICT) are immense, collection, use and sharing of personal data are an essential requirement to avail these benefits. No one can deny the role that the Aadhar card can play in the smooth delivery of various government services to residents, and in ensuring that the benefits of government schemes reach the right persons. However, one is required to part with personal data, including sensitive biometrics data.

Guidelines

While the correct use and protection of this data is most important, this cannot be allowed to disrupt the huge benefits provided by ICT. Recognising the need to protect personal data may result in different legislations, regulations and policy guidelines in different countries, resulting in a disruption in the flow of data across international borders, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) framed guidelines to strike a right balance between the objective of free flow of such data, at the same time protecting sensitive personal data.

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