The Indian government sold the country's entire vehicle registration database to a private firm in 2014 despite government officials flagging concerns of the data being sold cheap, The Wire reported on Friday.
Based on documents obtained through Right to Information (RTI) Act queries, it was revealed that in September 2014, an automobile technology solutions company, Fast Lane Automotive Private Limited, signed a contract with the Union transport ministry for heavy data sharing.
The deal was signed without conducting any auction to find out the market price of the data.
After the deal was quietly signed, there was massive criticism from government officials over pricing of the data, privacy issues and granting a grace period on the contract to Fast Lane.
However, the transport ministry decided to cut off the supply of data to Fast Lane in February 2016.
Meanwhile, Fast Lane continues to own the bulk data even now as Union Transport minister Nitin Gadkari told the Lok Sabha in February 2021 that the government has not considered asking private firms to delete the data shared with them.
The database did not contain personal details of the vehicle owners but it included business opportunities and insights for banks, financial companies, automobile manufacturers, insurance companies and marketing companies.
The private firm combined the data with information from other data sets to provide technological solutions based on Indian vehicle registration data in the global market.
Just after an year of accessing the data, Fast Lane's turnover rose 163 times – up from Rs 2.25 lakh in financial year 2014-2015 to Rs 3.7 crore in financial year 2015-16.
Under the deal, Fast Lane received data for 4.9 crore vehicles, whose details were digitised at a rate of Rs 1 crore, implying that the government sold each vehicle's detail at 20 paise.
On April 25, 2014, the transport ministry under the then PM Manmohan Singh government approved a scheme for sharing data in the National Register with law enforcement agencies and insurance companies.
Fast Lane proposed a deal to the government to purchase vehicle data of the entire country.
Later, in 2014, the Narendra Modi government came to power and the ministry proposed to share vehicle registration details and driver licence data.
After the ministry received an application from Fast lane in August 2014, the National Informatics Centre raised objections to the deal, citing privacy concerns.The transport ministry, however, chose to ignore the concerns and objections.
On September 16, 2014, the bulk data sharing contract was signed between the government and the private firm.
On April 20, 2015, Fast Lane wrote to the ministry asking it to postpone the commencement of the one-year contract to May 1, 2015 from from September 16, 2014.
In August 2015, the National Informatics Centre denied any fault in data sharing and objected against grant of any grace period to Fast lane.
In February 2016, the ministry finally paused bulk data supply to Fast Lane following the National Informatics Centre's opinion that bulk data should not be shared with private firms due to privacy and security concerns.
The contract, however, was officially terminated only in 2018.