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Deploy Digital Personal Data Protection Act to address the escalating E-Waste Crisis in the new year

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By Sunil Chandna, CEO & Cofounder, Stellar Data Recovery

Amidst unprecedented technological advancement and digital transformation, India finds itself at a crossroads where the convergence of data governance and environmental responsibility needs to take center stage.

The Data Bill’s impact on E-Waste generation
The passing of the Data Bill in 2023, aimed at regulating data usage and privacy, has re-ignited discussions on various fronts. While this initiative promises enhanced control over data flows and usage, it also inadvertently contributes to the burgeoning e-waste crisis. The adoption of new technologies and the consequent replacement of older devices will inevitably lead to a surge in e-waste generation.

This raises a critical question: Can India’s transition to a new data governance framework be achieved without exacerbating its e-waste predicament?
A Looming Environmental Crisis
One crucial aspect that demands attention in the new year is the surge in electronic waste (e-waste) production, which is intricately linked to India’s rapid digitisation journey. As per recent reports, India cumulatively ranked third globally in e-waste production. Even though one could argue that its per capita e-waste generation is considerably low and the e-waste generated is also a result of receiving e-waste from across the globe (UN reports).

India still faces a pressing need to address its e-waste predicament while embracing the new data governance framework. This unsettling reality underscores the rapid pace at which the nation’s technological landscape is evolving, marked by a surging demand for electronic devices and gadgets. As a result, India finds itself grappling with a pressing environmental challenge, where discarded smartphones, laptops, and other electronics contribute significantly to the mounting e-waste crisis.

Navigating Data Regulation Transitions: A Dual Challenge for India Inc
Embracing a new regulatory framework is akin to stepping onto uncharted terrain, fraught with challenges and opportunities alike. While 2023 was the year to gear for a transformative data governance framework, it is important to remember we are still at early stages of adoption since the passing of the bill in October 2023. The rest of the journey is expected to be laden with complexities.

Among the myriad challenges that India Inc may encounter during this transition, one stands out prominently: the simultaneous management of compliant data storage and the responsible disposal of old devices holding critical information.

The inclination to discard old devices:
Data regulations are a pivotal driving force in shaping how organisations manage and protect sensitive information. They set the tone for data privacy, security, and compliance, thereby safeguarding both consumer trust and business interests. Yet, this shift to a new regulatory landscape also necessitates a delicate balancing act, where the necessity to conform to fresh norms must coexist with the imperative of responsible e-waste management.

In the theories of compliance, a significant dilemma arises for India Inc: how to deal with aging electronic devices that hold invaluable data. The inclination to discard these devices is a common instinct, but it may not be the most prudent approach. Rather than relegating these devices to the e-waste stream, a more thoughtful consideration is warranted – one that explores the potential for reuse and repurposing.

Moving from choice to compliance: Mindful E-Waste Management a necessity
Today, IT security is closely linked to Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) measures which are further connected to ESG [Environmental, Social Governance models]. The transition to advanced technologies and the disposal of outdated devices needs to be approached with a sense of corporate responsibility that extends beyond profit margins. Especially when there is an increasing policy action across all frontiers to integrate sustainability in core business functions.

For example: SEBI has made the filing of BRSR mandatory from the financial year 2022-23 for the top 1000 listed companies (by market capitalisation) a compulsion. Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reporting (BRSR), is an initiative towards ensuring that investors have access to standardised disclosures on ESG parameters. Moving away from a voluntary choice, to mandating it under law, incorporating sustainable practices into their
operations can help companies mitigate the adverse impact of e-waste as well on the environment and human health.

Reusing old devices in an era of rapid advancements:
The idea of reusing old devices may seem counterintuitive amidst the enthusiasm for technological advancement, but it holds the promise of mitigating a dual challenge. Not only does reuse reduce the environmental burden posed by discarded electronics, but it also offers a tangible solution to the problem of responsible data disposal. By identifying devices that can be given a new lease of life, organisations can circumvent the data leakage risks that often accompany the disposal process.

Crucially, the process of reusing old devices should be coupled with meticulous data erasure practices. A careless approach to wiping pre-existing data could inadvertently pave the way for data breaches or leaks, tarnishing an organisation’s reputation and compromising privacy. Hence, a comprehensive and systematic data erasure protocol becomes an imperative step in the journey towards reusing devices.

This protocol should encompass robust data sanitisation techniques that leave no trace of sensitive information, ensuring that the devices are clean slates ready for their new purpose.

Data erasure in circular economy:
Data erasure, when executed with due diligence, not only mitigates the risk of data leakage but also bolsters the principles of circular economy and sustainability. The life cycle of electronic devices is prolonged, reducing the demand for raw materials and minimising the carbon footprint associated with production. This conscientious approach resonates with the global shift towards responsible consumption and environmental stewardship, casting organisations as active participants in a more sustainable future.

It is an important process for ensuring that sensitive or confidential information is permanently removed from storage devices before they are repurposed, recycled, or disposed of. As India embraced this new data governance framework, it is paramount for India Inc to embrace a holistic perspective that transcends mere compliance. The challenges posed by this transition are not insurmountable, but rather represent opportunities for innovative solutions. The dual challenge of adhering to data regulations while responsibly managing electronic waste can be met through a paradigm shift – one that embraces the principles of reusability, data erasure, and sustainability.

In essence, the journey of data regulation adaptation is not merely a legal exercise; it is a transformative process that reflects an organisation’s commitment to ethical data management and environmental consciousness.

Building a Circular Economy for Electronics
The synergy between data governance and e-waste management presents an opportunity for India to pioneer a circular economy for electronics. This entails adopting practices that prioritise resource efficiency, recycling, and responsible production. Companies can take the lead by designing devices for longevity, easy repair, and recyclability. Furthermore, partnerships between tech companies, recycling facilities, and regulatory bodies can facilitate the creation of comprehensive e-waste management strategies that align with the goals of the Data Bill.

Let 2024 be the year for responsible data governance:
To sum it up, this year passing of India’s Personal Data Protection Act marked a pivotal moment in the nation’s technological evolution, offering the promise of enhanced data protection and control. However, in 2024 this transition must be accompanied by a concerted effort to address the mounting e-waste. As per Deloitte, The world produced 57.4 million metric tons of e-waste in 2022,20 of which only 17% was formally collected and recycled. This leaves room for significant development in the next year.

By fostering a culture of responsible e-waste management, companies can not only comply with environmental norms but also contribute to the success of the Personal Data Bill, by exemplifying the harmonious coexistence of technological progress and ecological stewardship. As India’s journey toward data governance shapes up, 2024 also marks a defining era of sustainable innovation and conscious consumption.

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