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Data privacy and the ethical realm: A deep dive

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By Amit Kirti, EY GDS Strategy and Transactions (SaT) Deals Technology and Analytics Leader

In the digital age, data has emerged as the lifeblood of organisations – fuelling growth, innovation, and customer experiences. With the increasing reliance on data, the importance of data privacy has risen to the forefront, bringing with it a myriad of challenges and opportunities for organisations to fortify their ethical foundations.

Data breaches have become synonymous with the vulnerability of our interconnected world. Examples abound of colossal data thefts, where personal information has been compromised, leading to financial losses, reputational damage, legal issues, regulatory fines, and a profound erosion of consumer trust. As organisations navigate this ethical minefield, the significance of data privacy cannot be overstated. It transcends compliance; it is about safeguarding the trust bestowed upon organisations by their customers and employees.

Fortifying the defence: What can organisations do?

Today, data privacy necessitates a proactive stance from organisations. Technological fortifications such as robust firewalls and advanced encryption methods are critical. These measures not only thwart external threats but also instil confidence in users that their data is being managed with the utmost care and consideration.

Internal systemic initiatives play a pivotal role in weaving data privacy into the fabric of organisational practices. This includes conducting regular audits to identify potential vulnerabilities, implementing stringent access controls, and fostering a culture of responsibility within the organisation. The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) for anomaly detection and real-time monitoring is becoming a norm, allowing organisations to stay one step ahead of potential threats.

As organisations usually work with third-party vendors who may have access to sensitive data, they should enable conditions for vendors to adhere to strict data privacy standards through contractual obligations, regular audits, and due diligence. An effective data breach incident response plan and regularly testing is also critical.

Further, organisations should consider adopting a comprehensive data governance framework. This involves defining clear policies and procedures for data handling, ensuring compliance with regulations, and establishing accountability at all levels of the organisation. According to a report, a staggering 83% of breaches involve external factors, often financially motivated. Additionally, the human element is implicated in 74% of breaches, encompassing social engineering attacks, errors, or misuse.

Onboarding talent in the era of data privacy

Recognising the complexities and challenges posed by data privacy, organisations must invest in talent with specialised skills in this domain. It involves more than just compliance; it entails cultivating a culture of responsibility and accountability. Professionals well-versed in the intricacies of data privacy regulations can navigate the labyrinth of legalities, ensuring that organisations not only meet the standards but also exceed them.

Effective onboarding involves training employees to be vigilant stewards of data, understanding the legal nuances, and championing the cause of privacy. It is about creating a workforce that sees data protection not as an obligation but as a shared responsibility integral to the organisational ethos.

Organisations should also consider appointing a Chief Privacy Officer (CPO) or a resolute privacy team. This specialised role ensures that data privacy is a strategic priority, with someone at the executive level overseeing compliance, mitigating risks, and driving a privacy-centric culture across the organisation.

Privacy for trust: a cornerstone principle

At the heart of the data privacy discussion lies the fundamental principle of “privacy for trust.” Users, be they customers or employees, entrust organisations with their data. This trust is the linchpin that sustains business operations and fosters growth. Just as customers are the lifeblood of any organisation, their trust serves as the lubricant that keeps the business machinery running smoothly.

Transparent and lawful data collection practices, explicit consent procedures, and empowering users with control over their personal data are essential tenets of privacy. The seemingly irksome cookie settings on organisational websites, for instance, are not merely pop-ups but critical mechanisms that uphold user autonomy while ensuring compliance with data privacy regulations.

In 2023, significant data breaches in India highlighted the critical need for proactive data privacy measures. RailYatri, a major train ticketing platform, confirmed a breach in December 2022, coinciding with the denial by the Railway Ministry regarding the alleged trading of user data on the dark web.

These incidents underscore the importance of continuous audits and stringent access controls to prevent vulnerabilities. Another concerning breach involved the CoWIN portal, exposing personal data of Indian citizens. A Telegram bot reportedly leaked sensitive information, including names, Aadhaar, and passport numbers of individuals registered with the COVID-19 vaccine network. These events highlight the role of advanced encryption and real-time monitoring, utilising AI for anomaly detection to stay ahead of threats.

Navigating the future: the need for stronger compliance

As data privacy laws, regulations, and standards continue to evolve globally, organisations must brace themselves for more stringent compliance practices. The immense task at hand is not just about avoiding fines and penalties; it is about preserving customer confidence and maintaining ethical integrity. In this era where data is both an asset and a potential liability, organisations that prioritise data privacy will stand out as ethical leaders.

The approach must shift from “privacy by design” solely for compliance purposes to “privacy by default,” where data protection becomes an ingrained part of organisational culture. The Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023 in India is a milestone in the global data privacy journey. It not only reflects the growing importance of data protection but also sets the stage for stronger regulations and enhanced practices across various industries.

By fortifying their defence, onboarding specialised talent, and upholding the principle of “privacy for trust,” organisations can navigate this intricate landscape with integrity and resilience, ensuring a future where data privacy is not just a regulatory requirement but a testament to ethical leadership in the digital realm. Data privacy is not a checkbox on a compliance list; it is a journey that organisations must embark upon with a sense of duty and responsibility.

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