Privacy in the time of KYC is a joke

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Privacy in the time of KYC is a joke
Narayan Krishnamurthy - 25 September 2017

Everyone is hailing the landmark Supreme Court verdict on privacy being a fundamental right, provided by the Constitution of India. I learnt about the fundamental rights of Indian citizens when I was in school —right to equality, right to freedom, right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights, among others. I never understood how exactly most of them helped anyone. For instance, ask someone who is economically or socially backward about the right to equality and the answers will stare at you in this context. I think the absolute right to privacy is nonexistent in today’s modern world.

The financial services institutions are the richest sources of personally identifiable information—both general and financial. They are also the most vulnerable sources for data and information breach. An average financial transaction entails being KYC compliant, which has all the necessary personal information about you. Now, with Aadhaar being almost mandatory for most financial transactions to be valid, you are a sitting duck for hackers and data thieves.

It is common to receive alerts, mails and calls (despite registering for DND) offering various financial products. So much for privacy. It may seem innocuous when your bank relationship manager calls you up to inform you that the cash in your savings account is not earning enough and hence s/he wants you to deploy it in a better financial product, you can be taken in by her concern about your financial wellbeing.

Your bank balance should not be of any concern to bank employees— it is very private information. For the bank to allow easy access and usage of the information for its own gains is criminal. It definitely invades privacy, but there is no way one can ensure that it is protected. In my conversations with bankers, many acknowledge this as serious; some go to the extent of detailing how their banks have strict guidelines and rules on who can access information and who cannot.

However, with digital transactions, we leave financial footprints all over—by consenting to the information to be used by the service provider. The concept of financial privacy or even privacy is an evaporating concept in the digital ecosystem. As interpreted by legal luminaries, the fundamental right to privacy is not equivalent to an absolute right to privacy. So, the rejoicing is premature.

You can say “no” to the sharing of your personal information; but this cannot be guaranteed. Thanks to data breaches and several coercive ways of getting your information by smartly introducing opt-out mechanisms instead of opting in for a service. Just like fraudsters and hackers are always many steps ahead of the law and security experts, those who wish to use or exploit your personal and financial information, would end up succeeding anyway. Do not live with the assumption that the present judgment grants you absolute right to privacy. The reality is that your financial privacy will be invaded. Take steps to not fall into a trap.


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