a year ago

Data protection needs prudent approaches

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With explosive growth of information technology over the decades, there have been revolutionary changes in our habits, learning pursuits, work method and lifestyle greatly impacting our socio cultural and economic fabric. The rapidity and expansiveness of this sector have been and still are so vigorous that the human race looks like being locked into a fierce quest for conveniences in every façade of necessity and art of living. The internet seems to be not only a channel of communication but an endless reservoir of information to help us transact different necessities of our life.

Definitely we are the blessed generations enjoying the benefits of such magnanimous human inventions that have intertwined our natural physical, psychological and biometric capacities and abilities to be aligned with or to surrender to artificial intelligence. With notable satisfactions, the artificial intelligence led activities from remote control operations to door opening to auto-piloting to ATM uses and beyond, has just become unavoidable features of our life. However, all these conveniences and benefits are brewed by systematic proliferation of information which is better dubbed as data.

It is, in fact, the data that pulls the string for enacting all our desired actions. Therefore, effectiveness of all our pursuits strongly depend upon the authenticity of the data which itself needs proper preservation and due protection. Herein comes the biggest challenge. Today, data preservation and protection have become a daunting task everywhere.

Accumulation of data and their appropriate inputs make up the database that serves as the epicenter for all uses of information technology. While a strong database carries the onus, its storage and protection assume greater significance. Every single data has its own value and therefore, needs to be protected with due importance. Collection, storage and dissemination of data are required to be commanded by ethical and legal standards. It is a fundamental right of everyone to see that all data related to him or her and all peripheral information are collected, stored and disseminated by ensuring proper governance, risk management and compliance. This makes the framework of safety net that can assure relief and confidence for all. Any breach in this regard can bring disastrous consequences as we have already seen through the years. In fact, responsibility to ensure data secrecy enlarges with the increase in volume of data. Thus, data control and data processing have preset importance.

In our country, with a vast population and multidimensional problems ranging from poverty to lesser literacy to wide unemployment, data protection needs warranted attention. A weakness in strategy, infrastructure and strict adherence to privacy code of conduct can create vulnerability. Though there has been an unprecedented growth in the information technology sector over the years, there is still a big need for reassuring data protection. it is a huge task that needs utmost care in every aspect of data collection to preservation and to uses for different purposes.

The national identity (NID) database is the fundamental depository of all basic information about the citizens of this country. The national election commission has been the guardian of this depository and after tiding over some initial hiccups, they have successfully done a mammoth job. Today, one hundred and sixty different organisations are accessing the NID database for processing and fulfilling their various goals and services. These have made life easy and comforting as in the cases of passport processing, immigration, availing mobile phone subscription and more significantly, the financial transactions, particularly mobile financial services. In fact, NID is almost like the collateral against which one can avail various types of services. As the NID holds all information in length and breadth, its uses must be fully holistic.    

It should be well gauged that there could be malice ridden attempts to distort or abuse the good intents of digitalisation by stealing or disrupting the data protection system. This is not just specific to Bangladesh or any particular country. All data are in cyberspace which is non-physical and borderless. That is why there are universal endeavours to stimulate data protection. In the European union, general data protection regulations (GDPR) are in place, in the USA the California Consumer Privacy Act is likely to be a federal law and so forth. All these are attempts to ensure absolute safety and protection to personal data whether at rest in the database or in motion for processing certain services.

 In our country too, attempts are in place for data security. However, certain fault-lines in the strategy do look like susceptible to extraction by unscrupulous hackers or even non-careful and lesser skilled people. The case in point could be a step taken by the election commission in mid-May wherein it makes it binding for the signed in NID user party not to use the data for any other purpose or not to be supplied to any other party or user. This certainly is a good shield but the efficacy remains to be seen in its implementation.

One of the biggest users of NID databank is the mobile telecom sector including the mobile financial service providers. With about 85 per cent of the population in our country having mobile phone accessibility and about 110 million of them doing transactions through mobile financial services, it is of paramount importance that all data about the subscribers are vaulted well. At times, we see reports of manipulation of information by field level representatives while registering new users.

However, the most effective shield in this case could be the filter (Know Your Customer- KYC) as regulated by the Bangladesh Bank. Any relaxed practices to this effect could bring in a disaster for which the customers confidence on the wonderful step of convenience and for financial inclusiveness would wane away. The central bank, as a regulator, has a definite role to oversee and ensure that all required regulations are met by all concerned - operators, service providers and customers - in uniformity and not in any discrimination or special favour.

As days go by, the volume, efficacy and complexities of data would increase because of automation and our compelling behavioural changes. At the same time, the challenges would grow simultaneously. Breaches in the system, from collection to processing to protection, would bring in discomforting losses, materially as well as psychologically. Data will soon be the most sought after resource in the world and therefore, all prudent approaches must be taken for its protection.


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