Tech Talk | If US Can Pressure Tech Companies to Keep America’s Data Inside Borders, Why Can’t We?


Tech Talk

The US lawmakers recently battered TikTok’s CEO about the company’s link to China and safety of users’ data. While the bigger picture was that the data of American people is falling into the hands of foreign countries, the plan regarding data transfer is slightly different in India.

Being under pressure from the US authorities, TikTok has played its last card and presented a $1.5 billion plan ‘Project Texas’ to avoid a ban. This will be done in coordination with the US company Oracle and will make sure that America’s data is stored on US soil.

However, in India, the upcoming Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022, which will be tabled in Parliament in the Monsoon Session, could allow global data flows to all jurisdictions by default, with the exception of a defined negative list of countries where such transfers would be prohibited.

According to clause 17 of the draft bill, it is said that in terms of cross-transfer of data outside India, the Centre would notify countries or territories where the personal data of Indians can be transferred.

There is a reason why data is called a goldmine and its falling in the hands of foreign entities or cybercriminals may leave people in a vulnerable situation in the digital world for almost their entire life and also trigger national security issues.

It’s exactly because of this reason that big tech companies in the US have been under pressure to make sure that they keep users’ data safe and secure despite the fact that they are American companies that are dominating the whole world.

But in India, the draft bill allows users’ data to go beyond the Indian borders, which is a debatable topic among those who understand why localisation of data is needed. Even the concept of sending data to some “trusted” countries sounds concerning.

For example, the US, which grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew for over five hours about data collection practices and possible unauthorised foreign access, was making headlines just a few years ago for allegedly spying on its own people.

Even Edward Snowden, who revealed the mass surveillance programmes by US agencies, said during an interview that all these big companies keep a permanent record of each and everything a person did online and if the government wanted to look at it, it would get access.

Even though India has maintained a good relationship with almost all countries, including the US, it does not mean that they can be trusted with the data of Indians — especially at a time when the country is competing on the global level. We all know when friends turn into enemies, they are the most dangerous.

Also, most Indians usually don’t bother about what they are sharing on a platform. They don’t even ask where their data went, or what happened after a massive data breach and some don’t pay attention to data collection and privacy policies which every user has to agree to before using the service.

But this is “India’s Techade” and it is only a matter of time before the majority will be cyber aware enough to ask critical questions if anyone does any wrongdoing with their personal data.

The government will penalise those who misuse people’s data, imposing billions of dollars in fines, just like the US Federal Trade Commission did after Facebook’s infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal.

But once your personal, financial and health information is out, those who will have access to your likes and dislikes, your favourite political leader or what type of videos you watch, can use all these to fulfil their agenda. From manipulating someone to causing targeted cybercrimes, anything can happen.

That is why some still believe that cross-border transfer of personal data may not be the best option because it may ultimately damage India’s security, sovereignty and integrity.

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