Indian Customs Data Vendors facing possible ban
In February 2022, India Parliament was presented a Finance Bill proposed to insert “Section 135AA” in the Customs Act to protect import and export data submitted to customs. It has proposed to criminalize publication of transaction-level information in India. This will make any import and export data protected by customs and publishing of custom or shipping data will be an offence by the law. This comes as concerns as international entities and hostile countries could misuse such transaction level information to harm India.
The government has stated that there must be legal provisions against publication of trade data which can be mined by other countries to disadvantage India trade. However, the proposed clause will only criminalise the illicit publication of personalised, transaction level information by private entities, which affects the competitive position of Indian businesses in international trade and compromises their data privacy. The data publication through the department of commerce will continue.
Currently the Director General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics provides export and import data through the government’s website tradestat.commerce.gov.in. These data are aggregated and fully anonmised before publishing, this data can be extracted to eight digits, country with quantity and values of goods, imported and exported. This data is helpful for associations and researchers. However, they are looking for more competitive intelligence and mining information of buyers and sellers. This has caused the data mining and trading market to be very lucrative.
There were strong responses against the proposed trade data privacy and confidentiality provision. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor alleges that the government was restricting availability of trade data for the public, while FIEO Director General Ajay Sashi states that the exporters had pitched for stringent measures to prevent commercially sensitive trade data from being shared as they were procured from the Customs Indian Customs Electronic Gateway (ICEGATE) and being sold for a premium. ICEGATE is the national portal of Indian customs under the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) that provides e-filling services for cargo carriers and other trading partners electronically.
There are an estimated 130 million trade data records available for sale on the dark web as of December 2021. ICEGATE exchanges data with over 26 partner agencies, including commercial organisations in the private sector such as airports and seaports. This trade data is extremely valuable to the private sector, which offers a multitude of services for monetisation. Some high-level officials have also made comment that the trade data providers’ business conduct in the private sector is not aligned with authorities.
In the Budget 2022-23, Indian government even proposed publishing of export and import data from the country with imprisonment of up to six months. “If a person publishes any information relating to the value or classification or quantity of goods entered for export from India, or import into India, or the details of the exporter or importer of such goods under this Act, unless required so to do under any law for the time being in force, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees, or with both,” the Finance Bill states. Such a stringent bill may not be passed immediately. However, business analysts noted that such trade data vendor in India’s private sector has raised huge concerns in relevant authorities, certain action or regulation will be imposed sooner or later.
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