The Perceived Conflict Between Open Data and Privacy Concerns in India | Land Portal

The good governance of land is critical to the pursuit of sustainable development. Given that the land sector is often considered to be susceptible to corruption, open and transparent land data is seen as an opportunity to fight corruption. Following global trends, the land sector is increasingly engaging in efforts to make more land and spatial data open and freely available. 

At the same time there have been countless data privacy scandals and breaches including Facebook and Oxford Analytica where personal and private data have not only been leaked but used for political purposes.  Increasingly the uncertainties caused by these breaches of trust have created fears about how data about people is used, collected, and shared and is now part of the discourse about open land data. This raises the question about how open land data can protect data privacy and regain public trust.

The Land Portal Foundation with the launch of the Open Up Guide for Land Governance has placed itself firmly in the debate and seeks to contribute and develop the understanding of how open data can be of benefit to society while respecting personal and data privacy. Often in discussions about open data, the term open data is sometimes understood to be the opposite of private data, or privacy in general. This has created a fear that open data will result in private data being made freely available. If we look at the data breaches that have been mentioned before, these breeches generally involved data that has not been open. In an open data ecosystem, there would be no need to “breach” the data systems as the data is already freely available. A second issue that is often raised in conjunction (and sometimes amalgamated) with privacy concerns is an issue of equity with regards to the information ecosystem. Many people do not feel that they have a role to play in what is collected about them and how they may verify that information. So how can information ecosystems be made more transparent and equitable in order to restore trust?

India has made significant efforts to open up land data though the  promulgation of the Right to Information Act, No. 22 of 2005 and the Open Data Policy (NDSAP) in 2012. This set the stage for the “the right to information for citizens to secure access to information under control of public authorities” and providing a comprehensive framework and standards for data sharing by government agencies. However critics have argued that digital innovation and economic development have been stifled due to the inability to access spatial data, despite the efforts of a multitude of volunteer mapping and data organizations taking up the challenge of providing open data. At the same time concerns have been raised by the Internet Freedom Foundation about privacy and equity issues in relation to the proposed AgriStack database. The AgriStack is proposed as collection of databases and technologies designed to promote and further innovation and efficiencies in the agricultural value chain. The Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme (DILRMP) aims to develop an interoperable digital land recording system that is provides up to data spatial and land records data for improved service delivery and integrated planning. Concerns have been raised about the implications for transparency and privacy with DILRMP and the extent to which this may further increase vulnerabilities of the poor with regards to evictions and de facto loss of their land rights.

It seems that in some instances the legitimate concerns about data privacy also include elements regarding the lack of democracy and agency in the information ecosystem. It may be argued that the promotion of open land data through tools such as the Open Up Guide for Land Governance, with its emphasis on transparency, accessibility and participation, is a better match for not only protecting data privacy, but also for democratizing the entire information ecosystem on land and promoting innovation.

To further discuss this topic the Land Portal Foundation will be hosting a roundtable session at the 5th India Land and Development Conference (ILDC) 2021.

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21 November 2021

As the world is dealing with a pandemic, its repercussions are being reflected in India as well, along with an economic crisis and mass reverse migration which has significantly impacted the lives and livelihoods of people, ILDC2021 invites attention to the relevance of land security, in inclusive and sustainable development with inbuilt resilience to future shocks.

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