Is it voyeurism that is at the back of invasion of privacy, or is someone out to get the dirt on you? Or both? Did young Hardik Patel have a “so what” assignation in a hotel room with a young woman that was recorded on camera and sent out in the public domain? Was that him again boozing it up with a motley crew of “friends” in yet another hotel  room, or was it the same one? And now, he’s been convicted for inciting a mob to riot in 2015, and sent down for two years — though he is out on bail.

Does the Big Brother, aka the government, really have to steal data to get after someone, or is it out there for anyone to use, from a plethora of sources easily searched on the ubiquitous Internet? The data protection law in the making, based on the Sri Krishna Report, is dizzying in scope and complexity, and affords many exceptions. Will it be passed at all and by whom, because it involves amending several other existing laws and demands linkages with the RTI Act too? While it essentially wants is to emulate a similar European law on privacy. However, our legal system is all but broken and squashed under its existing load. Don’t we need to fix the judiciary first?

Besides, do we have anywhere to hide anymore if we use cellphones, the Internet, social media, cars and gadgets that are linked to the Internet?

If we have bank accounts, buy mutual funds or direct shares through a depository, conduct purchases online, pay Income Tax online, (as is more or less mandatory), use credit or debit cards, and even purchase or register property, we are being photographed, finger-printed, our eyes are being scanned for biometrics, copious numbers of signatures are being taken.
Ditto for application of even tourist visas to Europe, the UK and most of the developed world, inclusive of proof of financial ability to support oneself when abroad.

Credit ratings, however healthy, mean that our financial behaviour is being tracked in detail. Asking for a car or home loan, as well as a business loan, means that stacks of documents and irrefutable identity and address proofs are needed. Our medical information is also there on the cloud, and is sometimes shared for operations conducted elsewhere. At a minimum, even a blood test is out there on the net!

In fact, what is not publicly known about us, probably has no connection whatsoever with the digital world.

So why blame Aadhar, which has saved the Government crores in fraudulent claims of subsidy and the like, when we have had to provide data by the shovelful for at least twenty years of interlinkage? And this is an ever-growing digital era.

Aadhar is only the latter day device, the most successful so far, towards a unique identity system that most developed countries have long had. The new data protection and privacy law on the anvil, rightly concentrates  on penal provisions against surreptitious and wilful misuse of personal data. It concentrates on the potential to do harm. And it is a good thing that the corporate fines being listed run into crores. Alongside, there are, reassuringly, mandatory jail sentences for individuals involved too.

The Supreme Court recently agreed that privacy was indeed a Fundamental Right, as guaranteed by the Constitution. However, this is waiting to be fleshed out.

The global furore over Cambridge Analytica using voter data obtained from  Facebook and elsewhere, in the UK, America, and India, to profile  people is criminal — mainly because it was obtained without consent, in a variation of the old date rape drug usage.

However, most of the data that is out there was asked for and provided by the user of various services. So even if it is excessive or intrusive, the giver entered into the transaction more or less voluntarily. Some of it, for example that given to Swiss Banks, was heretofore secret, but is no longer so, as part of a modernisation and politically correct globalisation exercise. The elaborate camouflage of using tax havens around the world is being breached of late, too, as the Panama Papers and other leaks are testament to.

In quite another way, legendary pop singer Sir Cliff Richard recently won his privacy suit against the BBC and was awarded ₤221,000 in damages, representing the largest privacy law settlement so far in British history. He was investigated by the British Police after a complaint of molestation from a man who was a young boy some two decades earlier. BBC jumped the gun by televising the raid on one of Sir Cliff’s residences in the London area, even before the singer was called in for questioning.

Part of the outrage against the Wikileaks revelations in government circles around the world, is because Julian Assange and his cohorts had crossed a number of national security redlines in the course of their revelations. It is unclear how long Ecuador can continue to house and shield him at their Embassy in London. There are reports that Assange, variously reported to be ill, may be turfed out soon.

If so, he is guaranteed a long spell in jail if any of the affected governments get a hold of him. Of course, the general public is delighted with the revelations, even if they do tend to confirm the public’s worst fears about the skulduggery and blatant illegality of much that is practiced in governance.

So where does all this leave the Snow White theoretical concept of privacy and data protection? After all, people have been blackmailed from time immemorial with information on them they don’t want coming out? It may be amusing to read about Trump paying off a series of leggy blondes on his path to the presidency of the United States, but the phenomenon, as such, is not going to go away any time soon.

And ill-intent, whether it is to defraud someone by cloning his identity, or malign him with false accusations, or even bully him for political reasons, the hacker cum instigator has a lot of data in the public domain to play with.

One certainly needs legal cover to fight the menace if the need arises. But there is little sense in protesting the collection of data itself. Safeguards, and sophistications like the one-time password (OTP) go a long way to prevent misuse, but not so much for a  skilled, determined stalker or hacker or locksmith.

On the plus side, the cellphone data of calls made and movement of people with the electronic collar of a cellphone, certainly aids police work. So does GPS tracking and CCTV coverage.

Much medical data shared between doctors can make the difference between life and death.

But sometimes one wonders if the British Raj and the Congress knew about MA Jinnah’s terminal tuberculosis that killed him within a year of the formation of Pakistan, would the history of the subcontinent gone a different way? Or is that asking for too much?