India is rapidly inching towards becoming one of the most data-rich countries in the world. In fact, the JAM trinity (Jan Dhan accounts, Aadhaar cards and mobile numbers), introduction of goods and services tax and emphasis on Digital India would bring in a tsunami of data which, if put to good use, has the power to improve access to services across the social spectrum and become a primary source of wealth generation as it creates new paradigms of business activity, believes Richard Heald, group chief executive officer of the UK India Business Council (UKIBC). In an interview, Heald shares UKIBC’s findings in its latest report, Data: The foundation of intelligent economies. India’s data protection and the future of the UK-India Tech partnership. Edited excerpts:
In what ways do you think can the UK help India or Indian companies in the area of artificial intelligence (AI) and data?
There is a lot of complementarity in the number of areas between the UK and India. UK is recognized in terms of being the most advanced in developing artificial intelligence technology, has sustainable development and a very good eco-structure. India is coming to the party late but has a huge demand and data available. We are a business organization and therefore we want to see UK business and Indian business collaborating in the development of AI.
In what ways can Indian companies collaborate with those in the UK?
One of the aspirations that the Indian government has stated is that they want 40% of the service provision around AI to be delivered by Indian companies over the next few years. India is investing hugely in data warehousing. Therefore, we want to see some of the UK’s leading companies linking with leading Indian companies to develop AI technology with a certain type of protocol. For instance, British Telecom has a very large capability in developing AI. And here in India, Infosys Ltd too has a similar capability. You can quite easily see both these companies working together on a specific project which would allow data to be easily available to allow AI to be created.
With regard to data sharing agreement between India and the UK, a critical part would be the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Indian Data Protection Bill. How would you achieve parity when GDPR is more advanced and more specific than the Indian law?
UKIBC urges the UK and Indian governments to create a business-led data garage under the UK-India Tech Partnership. This data garage would explore AI and associated technologies on a controlled open-source basis via sandbox protocols, link to the proposed National Centre for Artificial Intelligence, and work closely with a network of Centres of Research Excellence and their UK counterparts. Data agreement would be an enabler to a data garage. In theory, data garage will be like a virtual special economic zone.
The moment you mention data, there is fear around hacking or data leakage. How do you allay those fears?
The current cloud service providers have very sophisticated defences against cyberthreats. We use Microsoft here to create a data lake, and they create digital warehouses for our data. And the layers of security that these warehouses are wrapped up in are very strong. The existing security protocols are very robust.
The data laws of both countries promote the localization of data. How would you balance collaboration with localization?
In my view and as per a lot of UK businesses we have been talking to, there is quite a bit of misconception around data localization. A lot of countries practice data localization and localize data very strictly. When you start moving away from critical personal data to strategic data, how local does that have to be? We have to see whether we can mirror that data and transport it to another jurisdiction, or whether we can create metadata and transport data, or transport non-critical data. It is important to get definitions of the terms used to understand where the lines are drawn, and to understand the difference between personal data and business data.
There’s also an issue of data ownership. Was that a concern with the Indian firms and the companies you spoke to?
I’m aware of a phrase coming to the fore—data colonization. I think embedded within the Supreme Court judgement about data privacy is a recognition that privacy lies with the individual and that is paramount. In certain countries, the rights of the individuals are not enshrined. A lot of work needs to be done in terms of clarifying consent. About how things will evolve in the future, is when people realize that their individual data has value. Right now nobody is intruding on individual space. But some companies are beginning to pay other firms to have access to their data.