The journey of data sharing by the public sector has been fascinating. In India, before being formalised by way of a law in 2005, the right to information was recognised as a fundamental right by various international declarations/conventions and even a few State governments in India.

The premise for the 2005 law (Right to Information Act) was empowering citizens through transparency and accountability. However, for most part, the onus remained on the citizen to “seek” information from public authorities. This changed to a certain extent by the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) of 2012, whereby every public authority was required to “share” non-personal, non-sensitive data produced using public funds (also called as open data) for promoting transparency and driving innovation.

Aside from open data, public authorities collect a lot of data, both personal and non-personal, with a view to provide services and create internal/external efficiencies. While some of this data might be required to be withheld for reasons related to data privacy, confidentiality, or intellectual property rights protection, most of this data should be exchanged in a right respecting manner to unlock the value of data for social good.

India has the third largest start-up ecosystem in the world. Many of these start-ups, especially in agriculture, health, logistics and education require complete, accurate, usable and validated datasets to train/test their AI-based models, to make predictions/draw conclusions or to be able to provide personalised or customised services.

To do so, many companies/start-ups need to spend significant time and effort in procuring these datasets expending resources which could have been better spent on innovation. For data exchange/sharing, businesses source primary data from the field, enter into bilateral deals for data sharing or at times, use open datasets in public/private sector, or might obtain data without appropriate consent/legal compliance. Such operating models are not sustainable.

For an efficient data economy, it is imperative that data consumers can interact with one/multiple data fiduciaries through a platform. In the absence of such a mechanism, the cost of discovery, negotiation and compliance would render the ecosystem inefficient.

With technological advancement, it is possible to not just “seek” or “share” open data but also drive public-private collaborations to share, use and re-use myriad categories of data in a responsible manner to the benefit of all sectors and people, as detailed in this Whitepaper as a part of the Data for Common Purpose Initiative.

Social, economic benefits

It is estimated that by 2025, data and AI could add up to $500 billion to India’s GDP. With so much data being generated, even if a part of this data is exchanged between public-private sector in a trusted ecosystem, the scope for innovating and driving positive change is enormous. Studies suggest that data access and sharing can help generate social and economic benefits worth between 0.1 per cent and 1.5 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) in the case of public-sector data.

While the imperative for data sharing by the public sector and the demand for trusted data are established, what’s missing is the enabling policy framework to accelerate data sharing and purpose-based application in a rights-respecting environment.

This is the issue that the Karnataka government set out to resolve. In a first of its kind framework, the State government, in consultation with the World Economic Forum’s Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution India and other stakeholders, released a set of guidelines that allow sharing citizens’ data with prior consent of the citizen to avail benefits of various facilities and services. These guidelines not only ensure privacy and data protection but also catalyse establishing an enabling ecosystem to leverage the value of data for social and economic good.

Made practicable through a consent manager, namely, e-Sahamathi, it allows a citizen to provide her consent to interested third party private service providers to use her data for specified purpose. Through an open API, the third party can access the data of only that citizen who has explicitly consented. This ensures that the citizen always remains in control of her personal data.

As an example, a farmer could consent to her personal data (such as financial information, land data, crop sown etc.) being shared with a bank/insurance company for availing customised terms for credit/insurance. Being able to access validated and updated data will be an unprecedented social and economic opportunity for the agri-tech ecosystem that will be able to provide competitive services, thus benefitting the farmers through increased income and the entire agri-tech ecosystem through more efficient markets.

Similarly, a student can consent to his educational qualifications being shared with prospective higher education institutions, in the form of Verifiable Credentials (VC).

Adhering to the principles of data protection and privacy, the guidelines provide strict conditions for data sharing. A third-party service provider desirous of accessing personal data is required to submit an application with the list of partners with whom the service provider will be sharing data. They will also be required to seek datasets only for the purposes specified (to be notified). Provisions relating to auditing the service provider, preventing misuse of data, data retention and data deletion upon revocation of consent further strengthen the trust in the ecosystem.

To ensure that the service providers remain accountable, they will be required to appoint a grievance redressal officer for handling/disposing of user grievances/complaints. Any complaint will have to be resolved within 30 days of receipt.

Keeping in view the principles of cooperative federalism, the Guidelines also provide for extending the services of e-Sahamathi as a consent manager to other State governments and the Centre.

Way forward

Data is an inexhaustible and limitless resource. With fourth industrial revolution technologies, data can be used, re-used and re-purposed with infinite possibilities. Through appropriate technologies and governance frameworks, data sharing can enable benefits and innovation.

Access to public sector data and with time, private sector data as well, in a trusted ecosystem, which is consent-based and purpose-driven, will be instrumental in creating value and promote equitable access to digital and data economy.

Chawla is Additional Chief Secretary, Karnataka government, and Goel is Project Specialist, Data Policy and Block Chain, Center for Fourth Industrial Revolution, World Economic Forum, India