Union govt shared vehicular data with pvt company despite privacy concerns: Report

RTI documents accessed by The Wire show that data on vehicle registrations across India was shared in September 2014 to Fast Lane Automotive Private Limited.
Representative image of vehicles in traffic
Representative image of vehicles in traffic
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The Indian government sold data of vehicle registrations in India to a private Indian company in 2014, even after officials flagged privacy concerns and data use, a report in The Wire says. According to Right to Information Act (RTI) responses, the data on vehicle registrations across India was shared in September 2014 to an Indian company called Fast Lane Automotive Private Limited (FLA), despite officials objecting to the same. The data was also sold to the company for an extremely cheap rate, the report says.

The report says that the deal went on for two years before it was ended, but the company continues to have access to the data that it was sold in 2014. While no private data of citizens was accessed by the company, this deal helped Fast Lane earn crores of rupees over the years, the report adds. 

The National Informatics Centre (NIC), which is the government's nodal agency responsible for securing critical cyber-infrastructure in the country, had raised general security and privacy red flags over the problems with sharing bulk data to private buyers. Government officials had also flagged that the deal was “heavily in favour of the customer.” However, the deal went on for years. 

The documents accessed by independent journalist Sreegirish Jalihal and data security analyst Srinivas Kodali show that the ministry also gave the company a ‘grace period’ to access the data for free, despite objections from the NIC and the Road Transport Ministry. 

According to the report, the private company used the data and other similar data sets to position itself in the global market for auto-tech solutions. Though officials from the ministry reportedly voiced concerns about such a combination of databases, the concerns were raised much after the company had profited from the data. 

Information accessed by The Wire shows that the company’s turnover grew 163 times from Rs 2.25 lakh in 2014-15 to Rs 3.70 crore 2015-16. The company continues to profit from this data. 

In June 2020, to protect personal information and privacy, the government did away with the data sharing policy where organisations and researchers could buy bulk data pertaining to vehicle registrations on an annual basis. The government had come out with the 'Bulk Data Sharing Policy & Procedure' policy in 2019, saying it was to support the automobile industry. However, citing issues like privacy and potential misuse of data, the government said that rather than sharing the bulk data with any company or organisation on the cost basis, reports generated on the basis of analysis of the vehicular data available in the National Register on the portal may be shared for use by citizens or stakeholders.

However, in this deal, FLA was one of the only private companies with whom this data was shared. The report adds that documents show that ministry officials were open to other companies getting the data as well, but it was only seemingly shared with Fast Lane. 

According to the report, Fast Lane “developed a business model offering technological solutions based on this exclusive right to Indian citizens’ data to its client,” and saw a boom in its business.

The Wire reached out to Fast Lane, which denied any wrongdoing “There was no impropriety at all at any level or any stage,” he wrote to The Wire and even asked the news portal to “desist from undue harassment to FLA and its officials,” failing which legal action will be taken. 

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