Explained: What is non-personal data?


JULY 26, 2020

A government committee headed by Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan has suggested that non-personal data generated in the country be allowed to be harnessed by various domestic companies and entities. The nine-member committee, while releasing the draft report, has kept time till August 13 for the public to send suggestions. It has also suggested setting up of a new authority which would be empowered to monitor the use and mining of such non-personal data.

What is non-personal data?

In its most basic form, non-personal data is any set of data which does not contain personally identifiable information. This in essence means that no individual or living person can be identified by looking at such data.

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For example, while order details collected by a food delivery service will have the name, age, gender, and other contact information of an individual, it will become non-personal data if the identifiers such as name and contact information are taken out.

The government committee, which submitted its report has classified non-personal data into three main categories, namely public non-personal data, community non-personal data and private non-personal data.

Depending on the source of the data and whether it is anonymized in a way that no individual can be re-identified from the data set, the three categories have been divided.

What are public, community, and private non-personal data sets?

All the data collected by government and its agencies such as census, data collected by municipal corporations on the total tax receipts in a particular period or any information collected during execution of all publicly funded works has been kept under the umbrella of public non-personal data.

Any data identifiers about a set of people who have either the same geographic location, religion, job, or other common social interests will form the community non-personal data. For example, the metadata collected by ride-hailing apps, telecom companies, electricity distribution companies among others have been put under the community non-personal data category by the committee.

Private non-personal data can be defined as those which are produced by individuals which can be derived from application of proprietary software or knowledge.

How sensitive can non-personal data be?

Unlike personal data, which contains explicit information about a person’s name, age, gender, sexual orientation, biometrics and other genetic details, non-personal data is more likely to be in an anonymized form.

However, in certain categories such as data related to national security or strategic interests such as locations of government laboratories or research facilities, even if provided in anonymized form can be dangerous.

Similarly, even if the data is about the health of a community or a group of communities, though it may be in anonymized form, it can still be dangerous, the committee opined. “Possibilities of such harm are obviously much higher if the original personal data is of a sensitive nature. Therefore, the non-personal data arising from such sensitive personal data may be considered as sensitive non-personal data,” the committee said.

What are the global standards on non-personal data?

In May 2019, the European Union came out with a regulation framework for the free flow of non-personal data in the European Union, in which it suggested that member states of the union would cooperate with each other when it came to data sharing.

Such data, the EU had then ruled would be shared by member states without any hindrances, and that they must inform the “commission any draft act which introduces a new data localisation requirement or makes changes to an existing data localization requirement”.

The regulation, however, had not defined what non-personal data constituted of, and had simply said all data which is not personal would be under the non-personal data category.

In several other countries across the world, there are no nationwide data protection laws, whether for personal or non-personal data.

What areas does India’s non-personal data draft miss?

Though the non-personal data draft is a pioneer in identifying the power, role, and usage of anonymized data, there are certain aspects such as community non-personal data, where the draft could have been clearer, experts said.

“Non-personal data often constitutes protected trade secrets and often raises significant privacy concerns. The paper proposes the nebulous concept of community data while failing to adequately provide for community rights,” Udbhav Tiwari, Public Policy Advisor at Mozilla said.

“Regulation must be clear, and concise to provide certainty to its market participants, and must demarcate roles and responsibilities of participants in the regulatory framework. The report is unclear on these counts, and requires public consultation and more deliberation,” Kazim Rizvi, founder of policy think-tank The Dialogue said.

Courtesy/Source: The Indian Express