The industry and banking giants like SBI, ICICI Lombard, Bajaj Allianz, Mercedes, and 138 other firms have bought vehicle registration data from the government according to reports. Government of India holds a Vahan database which compromises 25 crore vehicle registration record as regulated by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
According to the RTI data obtained by MediaNama, 127 private entities and 15 government bodies have bought this data from the ministry. The organizations involved in data accumulation are 30 public and private banks, 20 logistics solution, 19 financial firms, 18 insurance companies, and five automobile manufacturers. The government has made a whopping Rs 68 crore by selling the information during the year 2014-2019. In 2019 alone, the amount reached to a Rs 21 crore.
Some of the significant well-known entities involved in data buying are- Banks: Punjab National bank, Citi Bank, Axis Bank, and Yes Bank; Automaker: Volkswagon, Toyota and Nissan, and Finance: BMW India Financial Services and Tata Finance.
Half a decade of selling data: Bulk data and sharing policy
Yearwise speaking, the government has received Rs 600 crore, Rs 1.62 crore, Rs 7.52 crore, Rs 12.56 crore, Rs 25.96 and Rs 21.01 crore for the years 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively for providing access to information from National Register through Vahan.
The state has been selling data for around half a decade, though the bulk data sharing policy was updated on March 2019. According to the policy, any firm, who has 50% shares owned by an Indian can buy this data from the government in Rs 3 crore for the financial year 2019-20. The policy is applicable for 28 different details of data related to vehicle registration certificate and DLs (driving license).
As per the policy, the bulk data will be provided in an encrypted format and can be accessed only through a public key of the purchasing firm. The firms acquiring this database are required to carry out security audits. Any misuse of the data will be liable under the IT Act and any applicable law. Additionally, the bodies will be banned from using this data for a time of three years.
The unanswered questions- what and how?
What is in the database?
The Vahan database contains information for 25 crore registered vehicles. There isn’t much clarity as to what details are available in the database, along with Sarathi, which is a 15 crore substantial database of DLs. The question that remains is if the companies will be using this data to use predatory insurance for some individuals? Also, does the data include more than morbid details than the vehicle color, chassis number, fuel type, and dealer? What about consent? There is also no clarity if the state has sought permission specifically from the vehicle owners before selling their data. All the activities of data trading have been happening in the absence of a proper data protection law.
How was the price of the database decided?
Road Transport Minister, Nitin Gadkari mentioned that Vahan & Sarathi data would be up for sale for Rs 3 crore this fiscal year of 2019-20. There are no indications as to how the costing of the database is taken out and moreover if these prices are subject to change on a year-to-year basis.
Individual’s privacy concerns
The Vahan & License database being sold by the state has sparked serious privacy concerns amongst individuals.
According to Prasanna S, the famous lawyer who assisted the petitioners in the Aadhaar/right to privacy cases in SC said, “Public good conception of personal data is fundamentally at variance with the conception of privacy as a fundamental right.” The 28-data points shared in bulk data doesn’t include names of the owner, but there’s a loophole as they allow owner’s name to be searchable with the help of their license number or the registration number. This has been disclosed in the circular wherein they’ve accepted that there might be a possibility of Triangulation, that is, matching different data sets that together could enable individuals to be identified and their privacy compromised. In July, another news came with regards to the government selling license data for Rs 65 crore.