Prasanto C. Roy, a public policy consultant from New Delhi is concerned. In 2017, he began regularly sending donations to the Indian fact-checking organization Alt News to support its work to counter disinformation online. But July 5th non-profit said that the Indian payment gateway Razorpay, which it used to accept donations, shared its donor data with the New Delhi police following the arrest of Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair last month.
Roy is now hesitant to use Razorpay, saying he is concerned that tech companies are handing over data, including his own, to law enforcement without consent. “When a payment gateway gives out donor databases at the excessive request of the police, this information can be misused by the police or others they can access,” he said. “India doesn’t even have privacy laws yet.”
The full extent of the data Razorpay shared with the police remains unclear, but Alt News said that the data it collects from donors includes phone numbers, email addresses and tax IDs. police officer said in Hindustan Times that the police are collecting data from banks for comparison with Alt News data.
The investigation appears to be part of an ongoing investigation to see if Alt News received donations from outside of India after police argued that the parent organization of the organization received funds from several other countries, including Pakistan and Syria. Zubair, the co-founder of Alt News, was arrested on June 27 for a 2018 tweet that allegedly offended religious feelings but is also under investigation for other reasons. accusationsincluding the receipt of foreign funds under the Foreign Deposits (Regulation) Act of India, which limits foreign donations non-profit organizations.
While the arrest has led many Indians to fear that the police are stifling internet freedom, it has also highlighted the limited legal protections for privacy in the world’s largest democracy, which lacks comprehensive data protection law. The stakes are rising as more people in India use the Internet for leisure, communication and commerce. Already valued at $3 trillion, the country’s digital payments market is expected to grow to $10 trillion by 2026. according to Boston Consulting Group.
Razorpay faces social media backlash and threats boycott for sharing donor data without prior notice to Alt News. “Many donors and fundraisers have said they will no longer use Razorpay, and that was my initial reaction,” Roy said, adding that perhaps other companies would also have succumbed to the same pressure from the police.
In a public statement about TwitterRazorpay did not mention Alt News and said that the data transferred was “limited to what was under investigation.” Razorpay CEO Harshil Mathur tweeted that police were trying to “determine if there were any foreign donations or not” and stated that the tax IDs and addresses of the donors were not being released. Razorpay did not respond to a request for comment; Alt News co-founder Pratik Sinha declined to comment.
The Indian police received the data from Razorpay under Section 91 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows officials to request documents or data related to an ongoing investigation. But criminal defense lawyers told WIRED that the law gives the police considerable flexibility, leaving room for abuse or abuse.
“Section 91 allows the police to request information from any person during an investigation and this is a standard investigative tool,” said Abhinav Sehri, a New Delhi-based criminal defense lawyer. “Companies regularly receive such requests, which comes at a high cost because non-compliance has consequences that sometimes leave them no choice.” According to Sehri, one of these consequences could be criminal prosecution of the leader and possibly imprisonment.
Meanwhile, fintech experts say that even if Razorpay hadn’t complied with Alt News’ data transfer requirement, the police could likely have obtained it from other players in the payments ecosystem. “Source and destination information is stored throughout the chain,” said Srikant Lakshmanan, a researcher who leads the Cashless Consumer team, which is dedicated to raising consumer awareness of digital payments in India. “This information will be stored not only by Razorpay, but also by the card issuer, acquiring bank and payment network.”
This extensive data collection and sharing can make digital payment privacy almost impossible in India. “The privacy status of digital payments in India is non-existent,” Lakshmanan says. The ease with which digital data can be shared and merged makes privacy difficult globally, he said, but India’s centralized biometric identification system Aadhaar could add further vulnerabilities. “It’s easy to look for additional information in India, where a range of datasets are interconnected, resulting in a much richer profile.”
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