Gist of Editorials: Tightrope Walk | GS – III


Relevance : GS Paper II & III ( Polity & Governance & Science & technology)


A balance between free speech and curbing misinformation is proving to be a challenge .

The across the globe are demanding more aggressive intervention by internet platforms in filtering the content they host.

India’s recent intervention

Draft of the Information Technology Act 2018 mandates the platforms to remove or disable public access to unlawful information or content.

Is such an intervention justified?

  • The vague wording of the law does not provide clarity.
  • It can lead to over-compliance to avoid expensive litigation.
  • The govt is engaging in ‘censorship by proxy’ through private sector.

Problems with automated technologies

  • Incomplete or inaccurate training data
  • Further, an algorithmically driven solution is an amorphous process.

Way forward

  • crafting of mechanisms that can differentiate between false content and unlawful content.
  • users of an online platform should be encouraged to regulate the flow of information.
  • oversight and grievance redressal mechanism to address any potential violation
  • use of Application Programme Interfaces (APIs) or ‘Public Interest Algorithms’
  • community driven social mechanisms to raise awareness

Conclusion

A mix of empirical and legal analysis is needed to calibrate a set of policy interventions that may work for India today.


 

Gist of Editorials: Towards a Genetic Panopticon (The Hindu) | GS – III

Relevance : GS Paper III (Science and Technology)

[1300 words reduced to 150]


  • The DNA Bill, 2018 is to be considered by the Rajya Sabha.
  • Problems with the draft Bill:
    • disregards ethical dilemmas
    • treats DNA as infallible
    • infringement of civil liberties is seen as legitimate trade-off
    • proposed law is vague
    • allows DNA collection in civil cases as well
    • failure to place sufficient checks on the misuse of DNA evidence
    • a range of privacy protections are absent in the Bill
    • enhances the State’s coercive powers
  • Why do we need a DNA law?
    • Genes encoded in DNA are important tool in forensic science
    • DNA profile helps in establishing the identity of a suspect.
    • only a small amount of genetic material is needed to create DNA profile.
    • DNA evidence used across the world in complex investigations.
  • We should not the government untrammelled access to deeply personal material.

 

Editorial Simplified: Towards a Genetic Panopticon | GS – III

Relevance : GS Paper III (Science and Technology)


Theme of the article

The DNA Bill will give the state untrammelled access to deeply personal and penetrating material.


Why has this issue cropped up?

The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018 is to presented for consideration by the Rajya Sabha.


Problems with the draft Bill

  • It disregards the serious ethical dilemmas that are attendant to the creation of a national DNA database.
  • It virtually treats DNA as infallible, and as a solution to the many problems that ail the criminal justice system.
  • Any infringement of civil liberties, caused by an almost indiscriminate collection of DNA, is seen as a legitimate trade-off made in the interests of ensuring superior justice delivery.
  • The proposed law is not only vague on how it intends to maintain this DNA Bank, but it also conflates its objectives by allowing the collection of DNA evidence not only in aid of criminal investigations but also to aid the determination of civil disputes.
  • Given that in India, even illegally obtained evidence is admissible in a court of law, so long as the relevance and genuineness of such material can be established, the Bill’s failure to place sufficient checks on the use of DNA evidence collected in breach of the law makes the process altogether more frightening.

Why do we need a DNA law?

  • The genes encoded in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which can be collected from blood, hair, skin cells and other such bodily substances, have undoubtedly proven to be an important tool in forensic science.
  • Much like fingerprints, a person’s DNA profile is unique (except in the case of identical twins) and can, therefore, help in establishing the identity of, say, a suspect.
  • That only a small amount of genetic material is needed to create such a profile makes the form of evidence especially appealing to criminal investigators.
  • Across the world, the use of DNA evidence has helped exonerate a number of innocent people from wrongful conviction, and has also helped find the guilty party in complex investigations.
  • Thus, we need a law to help regulate the manner and circumstances in which the state may be entitled to collect biological material from a person.
  • The requirement for such a law is only accentuated by an amendment made to the Code of Criminal Procedure in 2005, which expressly authorises investigating officers of a crime to collect a DNA sample from an accused with the help of a medical practitioner.
  • A range of privacy protections that are absent in the Bill.

State’s coercive power

While consent is not required before bodily substances are drawn from a person accused and arrested for an offence punishable with either death or imprisonment for a term exceeding seven years, in all other cases a person refusing to part with genetic material can be compelled to do so if a Magistrate has reasonable cause to believe that such evidence would help establish a person’s guilt. Therefore, there’s no end to the state’s power in coercing a person to part with her DNA.


Right to privacy

  • In August 2017, the Supreme Court in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India declared that the Constitution recognises a fundamental right to privacy, it also explicated the various facets of this right. Significantly, it ruled that any meaningful right to privacy would include protection over the physical body.
  • A 2012 report filed by a group of experts on privacy, led by Justice A.P. Shah, found explicitly that a person’s basic liberties stand violated by a compelled extraction of DNA from her body.
  • The state must show that there exists a legitimate reason for extracting DNA evidence, and that the extent and scope of such extraction does not disproportionately contravene a person’s right to privacy.

Conclusion

To enact the law in its present form would only add a new, menacing weapon to the state’s rapidly expanding surveillance mechanism. We cannot allow the benefits of science and technology to be privileged over the grave risks in allowing the government untrammelled access to deeply personal and penetrating material.


 

Gist of Editorials: Short on Nuance (Indian Express) | GS – III

Relevance : GS Paper III (Science and Technology)

[1000 words reduced to 250]


  • B N Srikrishna committee has prepared a draft data protection bill.
  • Pros of the committee
    • inclusive functioning style
    • recommendations such as setting up of an independent data protection authority
    • suggestion that the Aadhaar Act requires several modifications
    • recognition given to data portability.
  • Cons of the committee
    • Suggestion that the UIDAI be both the data fiduciary and the regulator for Aadhaar.
    • suggestion that even though personal data can be transferred outside India, data fiduciaries will be required to store a local copy.
    • cliched vocabulary and superficial treatment of several important issues, for example, data quality and data storage limitation
    • failure to define clear-cut guidelines for the safe use of artificial intelligence and big-data analytics
    • has not carefully evaluated the data processing requirements of the diverse private sector
  • Way forward
    • investigation of the nuances of digital identity and guidelines
    • analysis of the extent to which personal information needs to be revealed
    • understanding of the possible pathways of information leaks
    • analysis of the possibilities of privacy preserving tools, techniques and protocols from computer science
    • improved data processing methods for tax compliance, corruption control, etc.
    • digitisation, surveillance and processing of large-scale personal transactional data
    • analyses of how such surveillance can be achieved without enabling undesirable mass surveillance
    • balancing the conflicting requirements of individual privacy and the benefits of large-scale data processing
    • defining the requirements and standards of access control, and protection against both external and insider attacks
    • availing the benefits from computer science
    • participation of civil society

 

Editorial Simplified: Short on Nuance | GS – III

Relevance: GS Paper III (Science & Technology)


Why has this issue cropped up?

B N Srikrishna committee’s draft data protection bill is expected to be tabled soon in Parliament.


Pros of the committee

  • The committee’s inclusive functioning style and seeking a public opinion at all stages are commendable.
  • Its recommendations pertaining to user-centric design, setting up of an independent data protection authority, regulating the government along with the private sector and a new law for intelligence gathering for national security are steps in the right direction.
  • Also welcome is the suggestion that the Aadhaar Act requires several modifications and provisions for regulatory oversight.
  • So is the recognition the committee has accorded to data portability.

Cons of the committee

  • It has suggested that the UIDAI be both the data fiduciary and the regulator for Aadhaar.
  • There is also the suggestion that even though personal data can be transferred outside India, data fiduciaries will be required to store a local copy.
  • The committee’s cliched vocabulary and superficial treatment of several important issues are the most disappointing. For example, the concepts of fair and reasonable processing, purpose and collection limitation, notice and consent, data quality and data storage limitation are not new. They have largely failed to prevent identity thefts, unethical profiling and other privacy violations.
  • The committee does discuss artificial intelligence and big-data analytics but fails to define clear-cut guidelines for their safe use. It ends up vaguely suggesting that no processing of personal data should result in taking decisions about a person without consent, but does not provide guidelines about enforcement.
  • It does not appear that the committee has carefully evaluated the data processing requirements of the diverse private sector, spanning healthcare, insurance, social media and e-commerce, and how these requirements may infringe upon privacy.

Way forward

  • A data protection framework is incomplete without an investigation of the nuances of digital identity, and guidelines for the various use cases of authentication, authorisation and accounting.
  • It is also incomplete without an analysis of the extent to which personal information needs to be revealed for conducting businesses, and during eKYC processes.
  • In addition, effective protection requires an understanding of the possible pathways of information leaks, comprehending the limits of anonymisation with provable guarantees against re-identification attacks and a knowledge of the various possibilities with virtual identities.
  • Also required is an analysis of the possibilities of privacy preserving tools, techniques and protocols from computer science including hash functions, symmetric and public key cryptography, etc.
  • Most theories for improving state efficiency in the delivery of welfare and health services using personal data will have to consider improved data processing methods for targeting, epidemiology, econometrics, tax compliance, corruption control, analytics, and topic discovery.
  • This, in turn, will require digitisation, surveillance and processing of large-scale personal transactional data. Acquisition, storage and processing of personal health data will be crucial to such systems.
  • There should be detailed analyses of how such surveillance — targeted towards improving efficiency of the state’s service delivery — can be achieved without enabling undesirable mass surveillance that may threaten civil liberty and democracy.
  • The committee needs to balance the seemingly conflicting requirements of individual privacy and the benefits of large-scale data processing, and it is not obvious that a trade-off is inevitable.
  • A data protection framework is incomplete without defining the requirements and standards of access control, and protection against both external and insider attacks in large data establishments, both technically and legally.
  • The computer science sub-areas of security and automatic verification will certainly have a lot to offer.
  • Civil society can play a crucial role as it’s participation in discussions on data protection has been exemplary, especially in the wake of the Aadhaar debates and privacy judgment.

 

Gist of Editorials: A Prescription for the Future (The Hindu) | GS – III

Relevance : GS Paper III (Science and Technology)

[900 words reduced to 150]


  • Healthcare in India has been transformed and with the use of technology, we can lower the cost of healthcare.
  • Impact of technology on healthcare
    • Telemedicine can bring healthcare to the remotest corners.
    • Artificial intelligence (AI) can support diagnosis with evidence-based guidance.
    • Augmented reality (AR) can eliminate the risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body.
    • Biotechnology can help make personalized medicine.
  • The case of India
    • India needs to rapidly adapt to and embrace technology.
    • India’s need of change has become more imperative with the launch of Ayushman Bharat.
    • Ayushman Bharat requires reimagining an innovative model.
    • Technology such as Blockchain can improve healthcare operations and costs.
    • Private sector needs to earn healthy returns on investment to continue capital investment.
    • We need to achieve a balance between world-class care and low costs.
  • India can be an example for the rest of the world to emulate.

 

Editorial Simplified: A Prescription for the Future | GS – III

Relevance: GS Paper III (Science and Technology)


Theme of the article

While using cutting-edge technology, we need to find ways to continuously lower the cost of healthcare.


Introduction

Healthcare in India has been transformed over the last three decades, and life expectancy, infant mortality, maternal deaths have improved.


Impact of technology on healthcare

  • Information technology and biotechnology are twin engines, with immense potential to transform the mechanics of care delivery. There are several examples of the kinds of impact technology and biotechnology can make on healthcare.
  • Telemedicine has already brought healthcare to the remotest corners of the country.
  • The use of artificial intelligence for preventive and predictive health analytics can strongly support clinical diagnosis with evidence-based guidance, and also prevent disease.
  • From the virtual reality (VR) of 3D-printing, we are now moving towards augmented reality (AR), by which, for example, every piece of node in a malignant melanoma can be completely removed, thereby eliminating the risk of the cancer spreading to any other part of the body.
  • Biotechnology, cell biology and genetics are opening up whole new paradigms of understanding of human life and disease, and have made personalised medicine a way of life.

The case of India

  • India needs to rapidly adapt to, embrace and drive change if it wishes to stay relevant in the global healthcare order.
  • India’s change imperative has become even more pronounced with the launch of the National Health Protection Mission (NHPM), under the ambit of Ayushman Bharat.
  • The vast scale of the programme requires reimagining an innovative model which will transform healthcare delivery in the country.
  • By leapfrogging through smart adoption of technology and using emerging platforms such as Blockchain, significant improvements are possible in healthcare operations and costs.
  • For India to grow, healthcare as an engine of the economy needs to flourish. And the private sector needs to earn healthy rates of return on investment to continue capital investment in infrastructure and technology.
  • In our quest to achieve low-cost healthcare, we must not inhibit our potential for growth, nor isolate ourselves from exciting global developments.
  • We need to achieve a balance between staying at the cutting edge of clinical protocols, technology and innovation and continue to deliver world-class care, while finding increasingly efficient ways of operating to continuously lower the cost of care and bring it within the reach of those who cannot afford it. This is a difficult balance to achieve, but not impossible.

Conclusion

We have it in our hands to shape the winds of change we face today into the aerodynamics that will definitively propel our collective destinies forward. India can be an example for the rest of the world to emulate.


 

Value Added Article: Quality Issues in The Health Management Information System | Category – Health | Source – EPW

Relevance: GS Paper III (Science & Tech.)

Source:

Economic and Political Weekly


Introduction

With the growing importance of health in the global agenda, the Health Management Information System (HMIS) has emerged as one of the key activities that require accelerated efforts to meet international as well as country-specific health needs.


Understanding HMIS

  • The HMIS is an improved and user-friendly programme geared towards the use of information for planning and action.
  • It is a process of collection, compilation, reporting, analysis, and the use of information for the purposes of management and problem-solving of healthcare services.

HMIS in Bihar

  • The HMIS was formally launched in Bihar in October 2008 to receive uninterrupted health-related information from different facilities in the state.
  • The purpose of employing the HMIS was to promote evidence-based decisions in planning, implementing, and evaluation of health programmes.

Significance of HMIS

  • Several interventions, including the launch of the NRHM, have increased the demand for data on population and health for use in both micro-level planning and programme implementation. HMIS takes care of all the health-related data needs.
  • In addition to the health system and health programmes, the use of the HMIS has also increased in hospitals.
  • It has been envisaged to not only help administrators have better monitoring and control of the functioning of hospitals, but also assist medical staff to improve health services with readily referenced patient data.
  • The HMIS has also enabled provisioning of better care to patients by automating all the major functional areas and other activities of hospitals .
  • Health-related data helps the healthcare system derive the level of insight and trends needed to personalise treatment, foster effective communication between patients and physicians, and improve the overall quality of treatment of patient care.
  • The HMIS has the potential to improve the health status of a population as it not only helps to take evidence-based decisions, but is also useful in planning health services, monitoring health programmes, and evaluating health programmes and health systems.

Limitations of HMIS

  • The role of health information systems is to generate, analyse, and disseminate such data, but, in practice, health information systems rarely function systematically.
  • Furthermore, it may not be practical to collect specific information on all aspects to answer a specific research question.
  • There are other limitations to the HMIS, such as the reliability, validity, and accuracy of the data in the system. These limitations can be attributed to the weaknesses in the system as well as the attitude of the staff who are handling the HMIS.
  • The state has been lagging behind in achieving quality HMIS data, for which a correctness and consistency of data is must.

Quality concern in HMIS

  • The first factor that affects the quality of HMIS data is timely reporting, since it is an important parameter of the HMIS.
  • The second factor that affects the quality of data in the HMIS is the shortage of stationery at the health sub-centre and PHC levels.
  • The third factor that affects the quality of HMIS data is the accuracy of data. Information entered into the HMIS needs to be correct and valid.
  • Fourth, it has been found that sometimes the same information is being recorded in more than one recording register in different formats, which can lead to mismatch between data from different sources.
  • Fifth, there are some issues related to the regular updation of the list of health facilities and upgradation of software.
  • The sixth issue is with the use of HMIS data. Currently, HMIS data is not used extensively by the higher authorities. Unless HMIS data is used by the higher authorities, feedback cannot be given on the quality of data.
  • Seventh, it has been observed that healthcare staff are not concerned about the use of the HMIS. Most of the front-line workers fail to realise the importance of HMIS data .
  • Eighth, the understanding of these data elements vary from the staff of one facility to the other, between lower-level staff and higher-level staff and between those who record data and those who enter data.
  • Ninth, some other quality-related issues such as outliers and validation errors exist in HMIS data.
  • In addition to the above, the state faces regular shortage of trained HMIS staff who look after HMIS work at different levels.

Way forward

  • Clinical and non-clinical staff should be made more aware about health information systems.
  • Until the quality of data is ensured, its use in health planning and monitoring will be doubtful.
  • If HMIS data is not used regularly for programme planning, monitoring, and evaluation, the quality of the database will decline further.
  • To present accurate and consistent information through HMIS data, it is crucial that the data must be the best possible representation of the health services provided to the people. Thus, staff entrusted with data collection and entry need regular orientation and feedback to improve their interpretation of certain data elements and fields.
  • The government should promote the utilisation of data in planning, budgeting, and monitoring of health programmes to improve the quality of data.
  • The government should organise regular review meetings based on HMIS data at different levels and provide feedback to health workers.

 

Editorial Simplified: Universities and Patents | GS – III

Relevance: GS Paper III (Science and Technology)


Theme of the article

The ambitious goal set by India’s IPR Policy rests on how universities embrace patents.


Why has this article cropped up?

In its biggest push to create entrepreneurial universities, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has now asked all universities in India to set up Intellectual Property (IP) Centres.


Universities and patents

  • Universities and patents benefit each other. Patents help universities to improve their ranking, establish an innovation ecosystem, incubate knowledge-based start-ups, earn additional revenue and measure research activity.
  • The UGC’s call to universities has come after a series of policy directives to introduce awareness about IP in higher educational institutions.
  • The number of patents applied for, granted and commercialised by universities and institutes is factored in in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) rankings: the top ranked engineering institutes in India are also the leading filers of patents.
  • The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) model curriculum for its member institutions lays emphasis on the need for IPR education in technical institutes.

The roadblocks

  • As universities line up to set up these centres, they will face a strange human resources problem: despite the policy push to have more IP, we simply do not have enough IP professionals in the country.
  • The dearth of IP professionals is a problem related to the field of intellectual property itself. Law schools and colleges are the only institutions which mandate teaching subjects like intellectual property. This is the reason why the supply of IP professionals is not keeping pace with demand.
  • India has a poor patent agent density, with only about 2,000 registered patent agents currently in practice.

Evolution of the intellectual property culture in India

  • India witnessed significant changes in IPRs since the introduction of the National IPR Policy in 2016.
  • The grants rates at the Patent Office have increased: in 2017-2018, there was a 32% increase in the number of patents granted compared to the earlier year.
  • The Patent Office increased its workforce with the inclusion of 459 new examiners and is on the lookout for more.
  • The timeline for filing responses to official objections for patents has been reduced by half.
  • While the disposal rate has increased, the filing rate for patents has not changed significantly.

Way forward to strengthen the IP culture

  • Online courses on IPR are available on the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning platform, which must be popularised.
  • Though thousands register every year, much needs to be done to build capacity on IP in universities.
  • The Central government conducts the only competitive examination in the country to check a person’s proficiency in IP. Fine-tuning the patent agent examination to cater to the growing IP needs of the country can be a successful way to build a band of professionals and create career opportunities.
  • We need to focus on careers rather than courses. The ambitious goal set by India’s IPR Policy will be realised only when the examination becomes the foundation for making a career in IPR.
  • In order to create a band of qualified IP professionals there should be a push towards post-qualification continuous education as well. To achieve this, the format, membership, syllabus and the frequency of the patent agent examination will need to be addressed.

 

Editorial Simplified: Resisting Resistance | GS – III

Relevance: GS Paper III (Science and Technology)


Why has this issue cropped up?

India needs to strengthen and implement regulations on antibiotic misuse. In a recent investigation, it was found that the world’s largest veterinary drug-maker, Zoetis, was selling antibiotics as growth promoters to poultry farmers in India, even though it had stopped the practice in the U.S.


The antibiotic regulation in India

India is yet to regulate antibiotic-use in poultry, while the U.S. banned the use of antibiotics as growth-promoters in early 2017. So, technically, the drug-maker was doing nothing illegal and complying with local regulations in both countries.


Loss due to antibiotic resistance

  • India stands to lose the most from antibiotic resistance given that its burden of infectious disease is among the world’s highest.
  • 416 of every 100,000 Indians die of infectious diseases each year. This is more than twice the U.S.’s crude infectious-disease mortality-rate in the 1940s, when antibiotics were first used there.
  • If these miracle drugs stop working, no one will be hit harder than India. This is why the country’s progress towards a tighter regulatory regime must pick up pace.

Major sources of antibiotic resistance

There are three major sources of resistance:

  • overuse of antibiotics by human beings;
  • overuse in the veterinary sector; and
  • environmental antibiotic contamination due to pharmaceutical and hospital discharge.

Has India been able to control antibiotic resistance?

  • To tackle the first source, India classified important antibiotics under Schedule H1 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules 1945, so that they couldn’t be sold without prescriptions. Still, Schedule H1 drugs are freely available in pharmacies, with state drug-controllers unable to enforce the law widely.
  • As far as veterinary use goes, India’s 2017 National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance did talk about restricting antibiotic use as growth promoters. Sadly, no progress has been made on this front yet, allowing companies to sell last-resort drugs to farmers over the counter.
  • The 2017 document also spoke about regulating antibiotics levels in discharge from pharmaceutical firms. For instance, Hyderabad’s pharmaceutical industry has been pumping massive amounts of antibiotics into local lakes, rivers and sewers. This has led to an explosion in resistance genes in these water bodies. Still, India is yet to introduce standards for antibiotics in waste water, which means antibiotic discharge in sewage is not even being monitored regularly

Conclusion

As the country takes its time to formulate regulations, the toll from antibiotic-misuse is growing at an alarming rate. According to a 2013 estimate, around 58,000 newborns die in India each year due to sepsis from resistant bacteria. When these numbers mount, India will have no one to blame but itself.