India is moving towards an online population with the number of active internet users in India expected to increase by 45 per cent in the next few years, from ar­o­und 622 million in 2020 to 900 million by 2025. Further, the number of 5G subscribers is li­kely to reach 330 million by 2026 and the mo­nthly data consumption per smartphone is expected to grow more than threefold to st­­and at 40 gigabytes per smartphone. With in­creasing digitalisati­on and engagement, the volume of data is also increasing expone­n­tially, providing op­p­ortunities for better go­vernance, service delivery and innovation in sectors cri­ti­cal for societal transformation.

To this end, the Ministry of Electroni­cs and Information Technology (MeitY) has released the Draft India Data Accessi­bility and Use Policy, 2022. This policy aims to enhance access, quality and use of data, in line with the current and emerging technology needs of the decade. A look at the key features of the draft policy…

Policy overview

As per the draft policy document, all central and state government bodies will have to compulsorily share data with each other to create a common “searchable database”. The policy document prescribes that regulatory authority Indian Data Council (IDC) and an agency, the India Data Office (IDO), will oversee the framing of metadata standards and enforcement res­pectively. The IDO will be constituted by MeitY to streamline and co­n­solidate data access, and enable the sha­ring of public data repositories across the government and other stakeholders. The policy document provides an update on the existing government policies — the Na­tional Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy and the Open Govern­ment Data (OGD) platform India.

The government has invited views from all sectors including research, academia, start-ups and industry on how the policy can institutionalise a data sharing framework for the next decade. The policy was open for public consultations till March 18, 2022. Along with the policy, the government aims to publish detailed implementation guidelines and a comprehensive data sharing toolkit in a similar multistakeholder effort to ensure effective implementation in line with the policy objectives.

Key objectives

This policy aims to enhance India’s ability to harness public sector data for catalysing large-scale social transformation. Any data sharing will happen within the legal fra­mework of India, its national policies and legislation as well as recognised international guidelines. The key objectives of this policy are:

  • Maximising access to and use of quality non-personal data available with the public sector
  • Improving policymaking, evaluation and monitoring
  • Enhancing the efficiency of service delivery
  • Facilitating the creation of public digital platforms
  • Protecting the privacy and security of all citizens
  • Streamlining inter-government data sharing while maintaining privacy
  • Promoting transparency, accountability, and ownership in data sharing and release
  • Building digital and data capacity, knowledge and competency of government officials
  • Promoting data interoperability and integration to enhance data quality and usability
  • Ensuring greater citizen awareness, participation, and engagement with open data
  • Enabling secure and privacy-compliant pathways to share detailed data sets for research and development
  • Increasing the availability of data sets of national importance
  • Improving overall compliance with data sharing and privacy policies and standards.

Unlocking opportunities

Data governance policies are increasingly viewed as a trade-off between privacy and innovation. Open data is perceived with a degree of suspicion, not only because of the propensity it creates for accountability, but also for the lack of understanding ar­ou­nd the misuse of data and safeguards against it. Data privacy and security principles are essential for responsible technology and innovation, instilling trust in governmental data fiduciaries to adopt a rights-based approach to data sharing.

The envisioned Data Accessibility and Use Policy aims to unlock high-value data across the economy. Such a framework will not only enable more informed policymaking and efficient public services, but will also allow a new generation of start-ups to bolster digital innovation for high-priority use cases and enter new markets, driving growth in the Indian economy. The policy will also facilitate a congruent and robust governance strategy.

Further, devising a Data Accessibility and Use Policy will help in realising an interoperable digital infrastructure. A data architecture that is interoperable not only mandates adherence to strict data and me­ta­data standards, but also creates robust en­­­­forcement structures for standards ac­ross the data ecosystem. The flow of data within this architecture is further go­ver­ned by comprehensive consent framewor­ks, technical safeguards for anonymisation and streamlined sharing. This will be a crucial step in breaking the data silos that exist today. Meanwhile, skill investments within the government for building capacity in data science, analytics, emerging te­ch­nologies, and ethics is crucial for ensuring the dissemination of high quality data and its use.

Policy framework

The policy will be applicable to all non-personal data and information created/generated/collected/archived by the Govern­ment of India, directly or through authori­s­ed agencies by various ministries/departments/organisations/agencies and autono­mo­us bodies. The state governments will also be free to adopt the provisions and protocols of this policy as applicable.

As per the document, the IDC will define frameworks for high-value data sets, finalising data standards and metadata standards, as well as reviewing the implementation of the policy, among others. The document further states that all government data will be open and sha­re­able unless classified under a negative list of data sets. For restricted data sets, pricing will be decided by the owner government agency. Each central ministry/ department will define its data retention period for specific datasets and ensure compliance with the same while managing storage and sharing of data sets. A broad set of guidelines will be standardised and provided to help ministries/departments define their data retention policy. These can be based on the DQGI framework no­ti­fied by NITI Aayog.

In addition, all government ministries/ departments will identify all existing data assets and create detailed, searchable data inventories with clear metadata and data dictionaries. The approved inventories will be federated into a government-wide searchable database for government-to-government data sharing. This will minimise the duplication of data processing efforts and enable better delivery of citizen-centric services. The policy will apply to all data and information generated, created, collected and archived by the central government and authorised agencies. Every ministry will also have data management units led by chief data officers to implement the policy. The document further stated that researchers, start-ups, en­terprises, individuals and government de­partments will be able to access data th­rou­gh data licensing, sharing and valuation within the overall framework of data security and privacy.

A data sharing toolkit will be provided to the ministries and departments to assess and manage risks associated with data sha­ring and release. This framework will identify whether specific data sets qualify for releases, restricted sharing or negative lists, in addition to defining mechanisms and required degree of anonymisation.

Challenges and the way forward

While these efforts seem to be in the right direction, the lack of a well-structur­ed me­chanism for monitoring the data sharing efforts of various minis­tri­es/dep­art­­ments/ agencies and ensuring the regular release of high quality data sets is still a lingering challenge. Another challenge in this regard is the absence of comprehensive and updated data inventories leading to inadequate data discoverability, sub-optimal inter-government data sharing, duplication of data assets, and poor planning. Multiple ministries, departments, ag­­en­cies, and state governments maintain th­eir own data portals. There are several ins­tances where these data portals/dashboards are not integrated with the OGD platform or there is manual, inconsistent and delayed integration with the OGD platform. Further, there is an absence of innovative licensing frameworks, guidance on the licensing approach, pricing data sets, criteria for valuation, and reference va­luation models. In addition, policy constraints on the release of priced da­ta sets through the OGD platform also inhibit sharing of detailed datasets.

The India Data Accessibility and Use Policy, 2022, is expected to overcome the challenges of data sharing and use. India’s chances of becoming a $5 trillion digital economy depend upon its ability to harness the value of data. Thus, this policy, aligned with the current and emerging technology needs of the future, is critical for enhancing access, quality and use of data.