Recent riots in North East Delhi conveyed an important thing—Mukesh Ambani had said it at the Gujarat summit 2019: “Data is the new oil”. Data has now become a crucial aspect that can break or build the lives of common people in this country. The data, even though it can be used for purposes like machine learning, which will be helpful for human lives, can drastically change the life of a human being who is in the run of meeting his daily needs. The violence in North East Delhi has left over 53 people dead and 300 injured.
The poor data protection in government websites like Vahan left the victims more prone to the attackers who just wanted to create a clash within the communities. Vahan database is accessible by the government and external parties under data sharing policy. The miscreants used these data to target people, especially belonging to the Muslim community. The activists of internet freedom foundation wrote a letter to the government of India to restrict public access to the Vahan database. In 2002 Gujarat riots, the rioters had used electoral rolls to target the properties belonging to the Muslim community.
In 2020 Delhi riots, the easy digital accessibility affected the citizens’ lives because of the openly available data in the Vahan database. Another important issue that pops up is the use of Indian citizens’ personal details by the hackers belonging to other nations for their benefits. Even though the union cabinet cleared the Data Protection Bill on December 4, 2019, it never solved the issue till date. Even now, the personal details of the driver are also available on the Vahan database. If this is the kind of personal data privacy the government websites offers, it will lead to the targeting of people belonging to a certain community to spread hate and instigate violence.
According to the Internet Freedom Foundation, in the context of recent violent clashes in Delhi, disturbing reports emerged which suggested that a database for vehicle registration called Vahan was exploited by malicious actors in identifying vehicles owned by Muslim vehicles, which were allegedly being burnt down. Although any formal news sources have not confirmed this yet, we feel this brings to light a serious security risk emerging from the ethos of governing personal data.
The idea of protecting our own data dates back to the time of the uprising of Information technology and the digital revolution. In the new era of machine learning and data science, even though publicly available data will be helpful, it also holds the risk of a severe impact like this. As we know, anyone who can access our data can easily harm us, and they can even use our information for their own personal benefits. The miscreants and rioters can use it for their vested interests too.
When data that should be kept private gets into the wrong hands, bad things happen. A data breach at a government agency can, for example, put top-secret information in the hands of another nation. A breach at a corporation can put proprietary data in the hands of a wrong person. This will cause more harm than any other thing.
The government, which collects our data for security of the nation, must be held responsible for our safety too. Most of the times, during communal unrest, a targeted attack on communities is carried out by using the publicly available data. We should raise our voice against all these things at least this time—because it is a serious issue, which could affect the communal harmony of this nation in future too.