Government’s intervention essential to leverage Data as a ‘Public Good’, to unlock its benefit for larger betterment of Society: Economic Survey

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New Delhi, July 4, 2019 : The Union Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs, Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman tabled the Economic Survey 2018-19 in Parliament today. It says that Government must intervene in creating Data as a public good, especially of the poor and in the social sectors of the country, to unlock its benefit for larger betterment of Society. This is very important as private sector may not invest in harnessing data where it is not profitable, the Survey states.

The Survey states that the Government already holds a rich repository of administrative, survey, institutional and transaction data about citizens, but these datasets scattered across various ministries. The government can deliver a better experience to citizens by bringing disparate datasets together. Utilizing the information embedded in these distinct data sets would inter-alia enable government to enhance ease of living for citizens, enable truly evidence-based policy, improve targeting in welfare schemes, integrate fragmented market, bring greater accountability in public services and generate greater citizen participations in governance.

The Survey notes that in the endeavor to create data as a public good, it is very important to consider the privacy implications and inherent fairness of data being used. It says that data are generated by the people, and should be used for the people. Care must also be taken to not impose the elite’s preference of privacy on the poor, who care for a better quality of living the most.

The Survey says that to ensure that the socially optimum amount of data is harvested and used, the government needs to step in, either by providing the data itself or correcting the incentive structure faced by the private sector. It adds that given that sophisticated technologies already exist to protect privacy and share confidential information, governments can create data as a public good within the legal framework of data privacy.

The data system envisioned in the Economic Survey involves predominantly data that people share with government bodies with fully informed consent or the data that is legally sanctioned to be collected by the state for an explicit purpose. It says harnessing data consists of four steps- gathering, storing, processing and disseminating data, each of which offers room for improvement in India.

Concurrent with the data explosion of recent years, the marginal cost of data has declinedexponentially, while its marginal benefit to society has increased manifold. Therefore, society’s optimal consumption of data is higher than ever. The global data infrastructure has largely proved reliable, fast and secure enough to handle this deluge of data, the Survey adds.

The survey states that through Aadhaar, India has been at the forefront of the data and technology revolution that is unfolding. Going forward, the data and information highway must be viewed as equally important infrastructure as the physical highways. Such a stance can help India leapfrog to utilize the benefits of technological advances for the welfare of its people. The Survey reiterates that in the spirit of the Constitution of India, data ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ must therefore become the mantra for the government.