Home / Budget 2019 / Economic Survey /  Govt needs to leverage data as public good to boost welfare of poor

One of the biggest fears over the unique identification scheme, Aadhaar, concerned data privacy. That debate now looks set to continue, with the Economic Survey 2019 urging the government to use its rich repository of data as “public good" for the welfare of the citizens, especially the poor.

“Data is generated by the people, of the people and should be used for the people. As a public good, data can be democratized and put to the best possible use. While this is an excellent start, the enormous benefits that can be reaped from treating data as a public good imply that government must redouble its efforts in this direction," the survey prepared by chief economic adviser (CEA) Krishnamurthy Subramanian said.

The Survey, however, pointed out that it is important to consider the “privacy implications and inherent fairness of data" that is used. It emphasized the fact that privacy of intimate or confidential data is different from public data and the processing of any such information will be in line with the Personal Data Protection Bill that is awaiting Parliament’s nod.

The government collects four types of data—administrative data pertaining to birth, marriage, pension and death; Census data; transactions and institutional data, containing information such as Unified Payments Interface (UPI) remittances via BHIM app; and public hospital data of patients.

Such data is generally collected by various government departments, depending on the subject. Therefore, the Survey suggests merging such data sets for the welfare of citizens.

“Use of data for public good is expected to be one of the cornerstones for new forms of public-private partnerships. With deregulation of most sectors in the economy, significant transaction-level data is also generated by private players in sectors such as mobility (cab apps), banking and insurance, health, etc.," said Arindam Guha, partner, Deloitte India.

The Survey also said that since data for social welfare may not be generated by the private sector in optimal quantity, the government needs to view data as a public good and make the necessary investments.

“Incentivizing the private sector to share this data with the government through suitable policy incentives can provide rich insights for futuristic policy formulation. Similarly, using this data to kick-start the innovation and startup ecosystem in the country can be a win-win for startups as well as the Union government," Guha added.

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