Defending the move of issuing a discussion paper on data privacy and ownership, TRAI chief R S Sharma has said the regulator raised the “right questions” to protect the legitimate interest of telecom consumers, and is mandated to do so. Brushing off the criticism, the TRAI chief sought to allay industry’s fears on overregulation and jurisdiction, saying people should not presume the outcome or “cry foul” at this stage when the consultation has just about started. He hoped the consultation paper would create much-needed awareness among telecom consumers about the concept of data protection and ownership, and admitted that value of data is “hugely underestimated” at present.
In an interview to PTI, Sharma said: “I am not raising any undue or illegitimate question. We are raising the right questions about protection of consumer interest and no one should have any problem with that…it is a part of mandate given by law to TRAI, to protect the interest of consumers.” When asked about industry’s concerns on overregulation by TRAI, Sharma pointed out that only a consultation paper has been released at this point. “But to cry foul at this stage that we are overreaching, is not correct,” he said. Sharma said norms will have to be strengthened as data takes centrestage. Asked if he anticipated such an opposition to the discussion paper during the course of consultation, Sharma said, “one cannot assume what we are going to do will be against one section (or another)…we are going to protect the legitimate interest of our consumers. That is our main mandate”.
On the question of jurisdiction and timing of the paper when the apex court is examining whether right to privacy is a fundamental right and IT Ministry has constituted a panel to work on a data protection framework, Sharma said TRAI’s consultation is limited to telecom networks. “This is a very limited consultation, with an intention to create a robust framework for protection, privacy and ownership of data in the telecom sector. Privacy as a larger concept is not being touched…We are only talking of data generated in telecom (network),” he said. In any case, TRAI’s recommendations can also be used as inputs by the government or appropriate authorities, he added. Earlier this week, the regulator floated a discussion paper on developing a framework that can give people more control over their personal data and prevent chances of misuse by various sources amid lingering privacy concerns.
The paper is titled ‘Privacy, Security and Ownership of Data in the Telecom Sector’ and stakeholders have been asked to submit their comments by September 8 and counter comments by September 22, 2017. However, cellular body COAI claimed that questions posed by TRAI paper are very broad and that “the risk is of over regulating an industry where technological changes and innovation can rapidly make any regulation outdated”. “There are also questions of jurisdiction that need to be answered…TRAI is better off holding workshops and conferences on the subject and then decide the question of the desirability of a discussion paper and its boundaries,” Rajan Mathews, Director General of COAI said.