TRAI begins work on data protection and government's role

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The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on Wednesday floated a consultation paper seeking views on privacy, security and ownership of data in the telecom sector, which would also look at user data held by smartphone manufacturers from those using such devices.

The authority has suo-motu made a decision to come out with the consultation paper as it felt it was necessary to frame some guidelines regarding data protection and sharing of data with third party players.

The Trai through the paper plans to define personal data and who should have ownership and control when a customer uses telecom services.

Q.1 Are the data protection requirements now applicable to all the players in the eco-system in India sufficient to protect the interests of telecom subscribers?

Once the process is completed, TRAI will issue recommendations to the telecommunications department, which, in turn, will take a final decision on implementation.

At the same time, various Government agencies also benefit greatly from the generation of vast amount of data, which acts as an enabler for more efficient delivery of services and prevention and handling of crimes.

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Sharma said, "The larger issue is who owns data generated by a mobile user, what their rights are, and whether any other entity can extinguish his (user's) right to the data in the name of securing it".

"The questions posed by the Trai paper are very broad and the risk is that of over-regulating an industry where technological changes and innovation can rapidly make any regulation outdated", said Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, a grouping of operators including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio Infocomm. The application is available on the Play Store for Android smartphones. "The ownership should remain and shall remain with the consumer who produced the data". "My call logs or my SMS data can not be the data of the device manufacturer". Data collection, storage and analytics have become widely used tools that allow businesses to monetise their products and services and gain a competitive advantage over other providers. The app can track a registered user's calls and messages and suggest which ones are spam, which can then be reported to the service providers for action.

Trai's consultation paper appears to be triggered by iPhone maker Apple, which is yet to allow the regulator's Do-Not-Disturb app to be listed on its App Store.

Trai has sought comments from stakeholders and public to identify the scope and definition of personal data, ownership and control of data of users of telecom services and to identify the rights of data controllers. Trai Chairman RS Sharma said Apple is acting like a "data coloniser" and is being "anti-consumer". This includes the provision of telecom and Internet services by telecom and Internet service providers (TSPs) as well the other devices, networks and applications that connect with users through the services offered by TSPs and collect and control user data in that process.

"The consultation will be on data security, ownership and data privacy in the telecom sector. It may create an arbitrage opportunity", COAI's Mathews said.

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