The Personal Data Protection Bill was tabled in the Indian Parliament in December 2019, the Supreme Court declared privacy a fundamental right in September 2018, and India’s Aadhaar biometric ID completes 10 years in 2020. In August 2017, Nandan Nilekani and iSPIRT launched the Data Empowerment and Protection Architecture (DEPA). Over the last few years, India has been building Public Digital Platforms (PDPs) that promise to harness data for public good at scale.
Against this backdrop, IDFC Institute set up the Data Governance Network in April 2019, curating a small group of leading research organisations: National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, IT for Change, and Internet Democracy Project. The Network examines the crucial role that data plays in economic and governance processes. The need for regulatory scalability and modularity – keeping in mind the size and socioeconomic diversity of India's population – makes the public policy challenges particularly thorny. Poor state capacity complicates matters further. On the other hand, the lack of legacy systems and regulatory frameworks enables innovation. This puts India in perhaps a unique position. Data governance models evolving in the US and European Union fit developing economies poorly. Indian solutions, on the other hand, could provide a useful blueprint.
The Network works on two parallel tracks, both grounded in rigorous research that is workshopped in quarterly roundtables and subjected to double blind peer reviews. It asks foundational questions about the way data is shaping the public and private spheres in India: Does competition regulation need to look beyond its traditional ambit to ensure a free and fair digital economy? What are the implications of data being seen as an embodiment of our bodies? Should individuals and communities assert rights to the digital intelligence derived from their data? And how can they do so?
Informed by this broader work, DGN also conducts research geared towards evidence-based policy interventions. This research is horizontal, contributing to the evolution of critical legislation like the Personal Data Protection Bill, the architecture and functioning of the Data Protection Authority, and evolving regulatory frameworks in areas such as Artificial Intelligence. It is also sectoral, doing deep dives into the digital architecture of sectors from healthcare to finance, where the rapid growth in data usage is threatening to outstrip regulation.
As both secretariat and research node, IDFC Institute disseminates DGN's research through working papers, policy briefs, op-eds and videos. It also engages stakeholders and policymakers through roundtables and one-on-one interactions, and is building a wider data governance community around the Network through partnerships with institutions such as IIT Bombay and the National Law School University of India.