India may have made a start in recognising privacy and data security, but it is next only to Russia and China when it comes to its surveillance framework and is dubbed as a country with “systemic failure to maintain privacy safeguards”. India scored 2.4 out of 5 on a global privacy index, according to a report.
Assessing privacy and state of surveillance in 47 countries, UK-based Comparitech in a study this week placed India among the bottom five non-EU nations when it comes to protecting privacy of citizens.
China (1.8 score) and Russia (2.1) were branded the worst in protecting citizens' privacy, while Thailand (2.6) and Malaysia (2.6) complete the bottom five. With a score of 2.7, US is the seventh-worst performer among non-European nations. Governed by GDPR laws and having implemented its own data protection act, the UK scored a total of 3 with all eyes on a post-Brexit scenario.
Lack of a data protection legislation, a large biometric database in the form of Aadhaar, and recent efforts of the country to make WhatsApp messages traceable are among the most concerning aspects in India threatening citizens' privacy, Comparitech said.
CCTV surveillance is not regulated in India, and any privacy laws are vague and open to interpretation, the study said. However, Comparitech acknowledged India's strides towards privacy.
“The courts [in India] changed the law so private companies did not have the right to request ID numbers, and government agencies' access to the Aadhar database has been recently withdrawn,” it said.
The surveillance framework does not provide for any judicial oversight and significant amount of power lies with the executive, Joanne D'Cunha, associate counsel, Internet Freedom Foundation, said.
“India's dabbling in weakening encryption through both court cases and legislation, mass surveillance using CCTVs, and connecting facial recognition systems to problematic databases such Aadhaar ensures we fit well within the Russian and Chinese context,” D'Cunha said.
The IFF also recently served a legal notice to the National Crime Records Bureau urging them to recall their bidding process for a facial recognition system until various legal concerns are addressed.
Comparitech assigned scores based on parameters such as constitutional protection, privacy enforcement, biometrics, and others. Countries with extensive surveillance scored low while higher scores denoted ability to uphold privacy standards.