New Delhi: Amid a heated debate on data privacy, the Economic Survey on Thursday suggested that private sector be granted access to "select" databases for commercial use on a chargeable basis, to ease pressure on government finances.
Alternatively, the Survey recommended sale of some datasets to analytics agencies to help them predict demand, discover untapped markets or innovate new products.
"Either way, there is tremendous scope for the private sector to benefit from the data and they should be allowed to do so, at a charge.
"Fortunately, stringent technological mechanisms exist to safeguard data privacy and confidentiality even while allowing the private sector to benefit from the data," said the Economic Survey for 2018-19, tabled in Parliament on Thursday.
The Survey argued given that the private sector has the potential to reap massive dividends from this data, "it is only fair to charge them for its use".
The Survey this time dedicated a full chapter to data where it asserted that data "of the people, by the people, for the people" must become the mantra for the government, while repeatedly underlining the importance of adequate privacy safeguards.
It exhorted the government to create and use its rich repository of data for "public good" and benefit of citizens, especially the poor, but within the legal framework of data privacy.
Seeking to establish a strong link between public data and social welfare, the Survey demonstrated various scenarios in agriculture, healthcare, education and other areas where harnessing data could lead to notable improvements in public welfare.
"In thinking about data as a public good, care must also be taken to not impose the elite's preference of privacy on the poor, who care for a better quality of living the most," it said.
The Survey noted that governments already hold a rich repository of administrative, survey, institutional and transactions data about citizens, although such data mostly remains scattered in disparate datasets across various ministries.
"Merging these distinct datasets would generate multiple benefits with the applications being limitless," the Survey said seeking to allay concerns over pooling of such information.
The Survey contended that large quantities of data already exist in government records, and the objective is only to use this data in a more efficient way.
"The prospect of empowering the government with such comprehensive, exhaustive information about every citizen may sound alarming at first. However, this is far from the truth...The proposal envisioned here does not gather any new information..." it said.
As sophisticated technologies already exist to protect and share confidential information, data can be created as a public good within the legal framework of data privacy, it added.
It emphasised that the data - being generated at an unprecedented scale - and information highway must be viewed as equally important infrastructure as the physical highways.
"Such a stance can help India leapfrog to utilise the benefits of technological advances for the welfare of its people," it said.
Interestingly, the Survey mentions the idea of a `National Health Registry' that maintains health records of citizens with all the necessary privacy safeguards.
Such a national health register can be identified using a citizen's Aadhaar, it added. It goes on to add that anonymised data from the register can be sold to private parties for analytics, which would then enhance prevention by offering predictive and prescriptive knowledge.
The Survey said that while the private sector had done an "impressive job" of harnessing some kinds of data the kind that can be converted into a private profit government intervention is required in other areas where private investment in data remains inadequate.