Public Digital Backbone

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“Digital Public Infrastructure is a key enabler for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and ensuring that no one is left behind in the digital age.” Bill Gates

The foundation of Public Digital Backbone

Public Digital Backbone is a term that refers to the digital infrastructure that enables the flow of people, money, and information in a secure, efficient, and inclusive manner. Public Digital Backbone can be seen as a public good that fosters innovation, governance, and social welfare.

One of the countries that has successfully developed a Public Digital Backbone is India. India has created a set of platforms and services that are collectively known as India Stack. India Stack includes Aadhaar, a biometric identification system that covers over 1.2 billion people; UPI, a real-time payment system that handles over 2 billion transactions per month; and DEPA, a consent-based data sharing system that empowers individuals to access and control their own data.

India's Public Digital Backbone has enabled various benefits for its citizens, government, and businesses. For example, it has improved access to financial services, reduced corruption and leakage in welfare schemes, enhanced public service delivery, and fostered digital innovation and entrepreneurship.

Public Digital Backbone is not only relevant for India, but also for other countries that want to leverage the potential of digital technologies for social and economic development. However, building a Public Digital Backbone requires careful design and collaboration among various stakeholders, such as government, regulators, private sector, civil society, and academia. It also requires addressing the challenges and risks of data privacy, security, inclusion, and governance.

In the News

1. Why European digital protection acts are superior than other similar acts in the world?

European digital protection acts, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), are often considered superior to other similar acts in the world:

1. Stronger Privacy Rights: GDPR grants individuals robust rights over their personal data, including the right to access, rectify, and erase their data, as well as the right to data portability and the right to be forgotten. These rights provide individuals with greater control and transparency over their data.

2. Extraterritorial Application: GDPR has extraterritorial reach, meaning it applies not only to EU-based organizations but also to any organization processing EU residents' data, regardless of their location. This global applicability sets a high standard for data protection worldwide.

3. Strict Consent Requirements: GDPR mandates clear and explicit consent for data processing, ensuring that individuals are well-informed and have actively consented to how their data is used.

4. Heavy Fines for Non-Compliance: GDPR imposes significant fines for non-compliance, which can be up to 4% of a company's global annual revenue. These substantial penalties act as a strong deterrent and motivate organizations to comply with the regulations.

5. Data Protection Impact Assessments: GDPR requires organizations to conduct data protection impact assessments (DPIAs) for high-risk data processing activities, promoting a proactive approach to data protection.

6. Data Protection Officers: GDPR mandates the appointment of Data Protection Officers (DPOs) in certain cases, ensuring that organizations have dedicated personnel responsible for compliance.

7. International Data Transfer Mechanisms: GDPR provides mechanisms like Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) and Binding Corporate Rules (BCRs) to facilitate international data transfers while maintaining data protection standards.

8. Comprehensive Scope: GDPR covers a wide range of data types and processing activities, making it one of the most comprehensive data protection regulations globally.

While GDPR is often considered stringent, its effectiveness in protecting individuals' privacy and promoting responsible data handling has led to its recognition as a gold standard for data protection, influencing other countries and regions in shaping their own data protection laws. However, the effectiveness of any data protection act also depends on its enforcement and the commitment of the relevant authorities to uphold it.


2. Why Data Protection Acts are Necessary? Data protection acts are essential for safeguarding individual privacy, fostering trust in technology, and promoting responsible data practices in the digital age. As our reliance on data continues to grow, so too does the importance of strong data protection legislation.

Data protection acts are crucially important in today's world for several reasons:

Protecting Individual Privacy:

Preventing Misuse of Personal Data: They safeguard individuals' fundamental right to privacy by setting rules and limitations on how organizations can collect, use, and disclose personal information. This helps prevent misuse of data for discriminatory practices, surveillance, or unwanted marketing.

Transparency and Control: These acts empower individuals with control over their own data. They give individuals the right to access, correct, and even request deletion of their personal information held by organizations. This transparency and control over their data empower individuals and foster trust in the digital ecosystem.

Ensuring Fair and Ethical Data Practices:

Preventing Discrimination and Bias: Data protection acts promote fair and ethical data practices by prohibiting discrimination based on sensitive personal data such as race, religion, or political beliefs. This helps ensure that algorithms and decision-making processes relying on personal data are responsible and unbiased.

Building Trust in Technology: Strong data protection regulations build trust in technology by assuring individuals that their information is handled responsibly and ethically. This trust is essential for encouraging broader adoption of digital technologies and fostering a healthy digital economy.

Promoting Data Security and Accountability:

Mitigating Data Breaches and Leaks: Data protection acts introduce mandatory security measures to protect personal data from unauthorized access, breaches, and leaks. This can help mitigate the risks associated with cybercrime and data security threats.

Holding Organizations Accountable: These acts hold organizations accountable for their data handling practices. They set clear enforcement mechanisms and potential penalties for non-compliance, motivating organizations to invest in proper data security measures and comply with data protection regulations.

Examples of Data Protection Acts:

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): The European Union's GDPR is considered a global benchmark for data protection legislation. It has influenced data protection laws in many other countries.

California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA): California's CCPA is another influential data protection law that grants Californians significant rights over their personal data.

Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023 (India): India's recently enacted Digital Personal Data Protection Act aims to regulate the collection, use, and storage of personal data in the country.


3. What was oil in yesterday's economy is data for today's economy. Or is it more?

In today's digital age, data has become a fundamental driver of economic growth and innovation, akin to the role that oil played in previous economies. Data is generated at an unprecedented rate from various sources such as social media, sensors, and transactions. This data holds immense potential for businesses and governments alike. Companies use data analytics to gain insights into customer behavior, optimize operations, and develop new products and services. Governments leverage data to make informed policy decisions and improve public services.

What sets data apart from oil is its versatility and scalability. While oil was primarily used for energy and manufacturing, data has a wide range of applications. It fuels artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, enabling automation and personalized recommendations. Data also plays a crucial role in healthcare, where it supports research, diagnostics, and treatment planning. Furthermore, data has the power to address global challenges such as climate change, as it facilitates monitoring and modeling of environmental factors.

However, the value of data is accompanied by important considerations related to privacy, security, and ethics. As data becomes more central to our economies, societies need to address these concerns through regulations and responsible data practices. So, data has become the lifeblood of the modern economy, surpassing the role that oil played in the past, and its responsible management is essential for a sustainable and innovative future.[1]


4. Does European Union Digital Services Act matters to us?

The EU's Digital Services Act (DSA) actually became operational in two stages, first very large and then smaller service providers, Europe as well as by the rest of the world:

1. For large platforms: Most of the DSA's rules began applying to Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) and Very Large Online Search Engines (VLOSEs) with over 45 million active users in the EU on 25 August 2023. These platforms include giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon.

2. For all platforms: For all other online platforms, regardless of size, the DSA will become fully operational on 17 February 2024. This means all platforms operating in the EU, or targeting EU users, will need to comply with the act's requirements.

What are the implications of the European Act?

EU's New Digital Services Act: Global Implications

The Digital Services Act (DSA) is a landmark EU regulation that aims to create a safer and more transparent online environment by holding tech giants accountable for the content on their platforms. While it primarily applies to platforms operating within the EU, its reach extends beyond its borders through several potential impacts on non-EU regions:

Content Regulation: Platforms may be compelled to adopt stricter content moderation policies to comply with DSA's rules on illegal and harmful content. This could impact content access and expression outside the EU, raising concerns about censorship and stifling online discourse.

Increased Costs: Complying with the DSA's obligations may be costly for platforms, potentially leading to higher prices for users in non-EU regions.

Innovation and Competition: The DSA's focus on transparency and open platforms could benefit smaller, non-EU tech companies by creating a more level playing field. However, its emphasis on removing harmful content could also hinder innovation and development of new online services.

Global Standards: The DSA could set a precedent for online content regulation, influencing other countries to adopt similar laws. This could create a more harmonized global approach to online safety but also raise concerns about data privacy and sovereignty.[2]


5. Art generated NOT by AI but by great artists 'on AI' and 'for the HUMANITY'

Not machine generated 'hallucination' but co-evolution

Painting on AI by great artist painter Refik Anadol Director RAS LAB

In considering AI’s potential, it can be tempting to channel the techno-optimism of the 1990s, when IBM’s Deep Blue triumphed over the world chess champion, unleashing a wave of interdisciplinary interest in how AI might be deployed and commercialized in other domains. But it can also be tempting to adopt the opposing view and insist that AI will become an intolerable threat to most people’s livelihoods and perhaps even to human existence itself.

Both reactions are not new: they have often accompanied the emergence of major innovations. They also make similar mistakes, because both treat technological progress as if it were something separate from us. Nowadays, the optimists fixate on what AI might do for us, while the pessimists worry about what it will do to us. But the question we should be asking is what AI will do with us.

This question is as pertinent to fine art as it is to finance, despite the apparent differences between these domains of quintessentially human activity. New-media art is best understood as a dialogue between experimentation and tradition. The human longing for novelty and tradition are mutually dependent: Only by appreciating what came before an artwork can we comprehend what makes it new. No work is fully independent of cultural heritage, just as light cannot be understood in the absence of darkness.

Dvorak Dreams, a collaborative AI art project, demonstrates the potential of AI to enhance and extend human creativity, enriching cultural heritage. Artists can guide AI's role in society. Human input shapes AI's output, making it meaningful and beneficial. We need a symbiotic relationship.[3]


6. 'Right to be forgotten' RTBF on the Internet?

The "right to be forgotten," RTBF also known as the "right to erasure," is a complex and evolving legal concept with implications for privacy, freedom of expression on the Internet.

What it is?

The right for individuals to request the deletion of their personal data from online platforms, particularly search engines.

Aims to give individuals control over their online presence and prevent the past from perpetually defining their present.

It is Primarily in the European Union under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Other countries like Argentina and the Philippines have similar laws. But not yet recognized in the US.

How it works?

Individuals can submit erasure requests to search engines like Google. Search engines must assess if the information is "inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant, or excessive" and if there's a public interest in keeping it available. Search engines can delist or demote search results, but not necessarily remove them entirely.


6. Unlocking India's Purple Sector: DPI and ONDC within Beckn Protocol are boon for disables and socially vulnerables. Author: Shanti Raghavan, founder, Enable India and Ashoka Fellow for Social Entrepreneurship

DPI and ONDC is boon and groundbreaking advancement for individuals with disabilities and socially vulnerable populations. They provide a comprehensive digital framework that enhances accessibility and inclusivity across various sectors, including transportation services like autos and taxis. By enabling seamless discoverability and access to specialized products and services, this integrated system empowers individuals with disabilities, enhancing their mobility, access to healthcare, education, and employment opportunities, ultimately improving their quality of life and socioeconomic prospects.

The article discusses the significant potential of disability-inclusive infrastructure in India, referred to as the 'purple sector.' This sector encompasses a broad range of opportunities, including mobility, housing, healthcare, financial services, and commerce, all aimed at improving the lives of persons with disabilities. With an estimated 30 million to 150 million people with disabilities in India, there is a substantial market waiting to be tapped. The article highlights the role of India's digital public infrastructure, such as Aadhaar and the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), in enabling the development of disability-friendly services and products.

The key to unlocking this potential lies in addressing four critical aspects of disability inclusion: discoverability, trust, access, and the cost of innovation. These aspects are essential for ensuring that appropriate products and services for persons with disabilities are readily available and accessible. The Beckn Protocol is mentioned as a crucial technology layer enabling digital public goods like ONDC and Namma Yatri to cater to the disability-inclusive digital economy.

The article emphasizes the importance of implementing this framework across various digital public goods to empower persons with disabilities to actively contribute to India's economic growth. It highlights examples of how healthcare apps and educational tools integrated into the digital infrastructure can benefit individuals like Meena, providing them with access to specialized services, skill development, and employment opportunities. Ultimately, the article envisions a future where disability-inclusive infrastructure plays a pivotal role in enhancing the lives of millions of people with disabilities in India while contributing to the country's economic development.[4]


8. AI can detect cancer at Tata Memorial Hospital

CONSIDER THIS scenario: With a simple click, doctors will be able to assess the hardness, texture and elasticity of tumours including gaining insights into the likelihood of a patient's survival and responsiveness to chemotherapy.

Once the stuff of sci-fi, an initiative by Mumbai's Tata Memorial Hospital, India's largest cancer hospital, is doing just that-deploying deep learning to teach Artificial Intelligence (AI) how to diagnose cancer early on. This detection tool, doctors say, will also help avoid unnecessary chemotherapy for predicted non-responders.

With its Bioimaging Bank having integrated 60,000 digital scans of cancer patients over the past year, the hospital has laid the groundwork to develop a cancer-specific algorithm. It has also started using Al to reduce radiation exposure for paediatric patients undergoing CT scans.[5]


9. 'Inevitable India' rings especially true in the sphere of technology

'Inevitable India' rings especially true in the sphere of technology The article "Inevitable India" by Debjani Ghosh, President Nasscom highlights India's remarkable contributions to the global digital transformation. In the early 2000s, India unveiled the globally lauded tourism campaign, "Incredible India." Fast-forward to the present. Harvard Business School posed a compelling question: If India were to initiate another global campaign today, what should encapsulate its essence? Its recommendation, "Inevitable India," Based on the design principles of inclusion, security and ecosystem-driven development, India's DPI network has laid the groundwork for economic growth where no one is left behind. Our mantra of innovating for scale at the grassroots level and then moving up, as opposed to the Western norm of top-heavy innovation that trickles down, positions India as one of the few countries realizing the vision of a truly inclusive and human- centric digital economy[6]

This won't be just a triumph for India; it's a promise we will make a positive global impact that will be valued by people in the farthest reaches of the world.


10. Indian AI: What is it, and can we make one?

  - Indian AI is an aspirational concept referring to AI models trained on datasets relevant to India's diverse culture and languages.
  - Western-centric internet data can introduce biases, making it essential for AI in India to account for local sensibilities and languages.
  - AI can differ by region and culture due to variations in language understanding and addressing India-specific societal and political nuances.

Differences in Indian Datasets:

  - India's AI policy, the India AI Programme, aims to create unique datasets, including languages spoken in India.
  - These datasets will be handled by a government-affiliated data governance office and will prioritize anonymized and non-personal user data.
  - While existing AI models include Indic languages, primary training data is often in English, making India-specific datasets crucial.

Components of the India AI Programme:

  - The India AI Programme will offer researchers access to Indic language databases, serving as a valuable research repository.
  - It will also focus on developing indigenous computing power, including data center capabilities and custom silicon designs, likely through public-private partnerships.

Private Sector Initiatives:

  - Startups like Sarvam AI have introduced open-source AI models for non-English languages, such as Hindi.
  - Yotta, a data center firm, partnered with Nvidia to facilitate cloud-based access for startups training AI models.
  - Ola has hinted at developing a foundational AI model for India but hasn't provided detailed information.

Key Challenges in Developing Indian AI:

  - A significant challenge is the scarcity of organized, publicly available datasets in Indic languages.
  - Creating such datasets is more expensive compared to sourcing data in English.
  - India's proposal to design custom silicon for AI will require substantial investments, likely exceeding $1 billion.

(Source: Mint, 19 December 2023)


11. India will emerge as the world's foremost user of AI says Nandan Nilekani

In a recent article, Infosys co-founder and chairman Nandan Nilekani and Tanuj Bhojwani, head of People+AI, shared their belief that India is poised to become the world's leading user of artificial intelligence (AI) by the end of this decade. They argue that India's unique advantages include a young and well-connected population, favorable policies, and significant infrastructure investments. India's demographic dividend, with a median age of 28 compared to Europe's 44, places a higher share of the population in the working age bracket. However, India's diversity, linguistic barriers, and varying literacy rates present challenges that AI can help overcome by providing innovative solutions in areas like healthcare, education, agriculture, and sustainability.

Nilekani and Bhojwani highlight India's readiness for AI adoption, citing over 790 million mobile broadband users and the success of digital public infrastructure systems like Aadhaar and the Unified Payments Interface. They emphasize that India's lack of legacy systems allows it to build AI-first solutions from the ground up, with a focus on data control and public trust. They also point to government initiatives like the PM-Kisan chatbot, which aids farmers in accessing benefits, as an example of early AI adoption. India's vibrant tech ecosystem, driven by booming IT exports, further supports the growth of AI innovation and solutions.

So, Nilekani and Bhojwani believe that India's potential in AI is based on its unique circumstances, readiness, and willingness to address real-world problems with technology. They stress the importance of focusing on problem-solving rather than fixating solely on the technology itself. This perspective suggests that India is well-positioned to lead the world in AI usage in the coming years.[7]

(We are finding this article very interesting. So we are providing highlights of the article. Those who are interested to know a few more pertinent things can go ahead and read on. Others can skip without much loss. Editors)

1. "India needs it": India is positioned as a probable beneficiary of the "China plus one" concept, making it the most likely choice for global companies looking to diversify from China.

2. Demographic Advantage: India's 1.4 billion population, coupled with a younger average age compared to Europe, means a significant portion of its population is of working age, offering a demographic advantage.

3. Complex Challenges: India's unique challenges, including linguistic diversity and varying literacy rates, require innovative AI solutions to address issues in healthcare, education, agriculture, and sustainability.

4. AI as a Bridge: AI has the potential to overcome barriers such as language diversity by enabling people to access services through natural language, particularly benefiting those with lower literacy rates.

5. "India is ready for it": India's young and well-connected population, with over 790 million mobile broadband users, provides a strong foundation for AI adoption.

6. Digital Public Infrastructure: Successes like the Aadhaar system and the Unified Payments Interface showcase India's readiness for AI, as they form the basis for AI-first systems.

7. Data Control: India's data control framework, including the Account Aggregator framework, fosters public trust and encourages data utilization in AI applications.

8. Government Initiatives: Initiatives like the PM-Kisan chatbot demonstrate the government's early adoption of AI to bridge language barriers and improve access to benefits.

9. Tech Ecosystem: India's vibrant tech ecosystem, fueled by IT exports, innovates and widely adopts digital public infrastructure, contributing to the growth of AI solutions.

10. AI in Education: AI's potential extends to education, helping close literacy gaps and transforming administrative tasks.

11. Problem-Solving Focus: The authors stress the importance of a strategic plan that prioritizes solving real-world problems over fixating solely on the technology itself.

Note: For going to the original article 'Unlocking India's Potential with AI', Nilekani and Bhojwani :

To read click on BLUE Title links to go into CHAPTERS

Table of Contents

Preface: Empowering India Digitally

  -The reason for choosing the title
  -Trailblazers of Modern India: Innovations and Pioneers in Science and Technology
  -The Dual Face of Digital India
  -Digital Transformation: Challenging Dominance and Shaping Socio-Political Landscapes
  -Significance of Nandan Nilekani's Initiatives
  -Globalization and Digital Evolution and Socio-Economic Disparities in India

Chapter 1. A Silent Revolution

   -Is there anything for the world to learn from India? 
   -Comparing Western, Chinese, and Indian Approaches to Personal Identification.
   -Digital Advancements in India: Bridging Gaps and Building Trust.
   -Analyzing the Utilization of Digital Infrastructure in India.

Chapter 2. History in the Making

   -The rise of the digital infrastructure
   -The Global South: An Analysis of Socio-Economic Divide.

Chapter 3. India Stack:Plumbing for the Internet Age

   - Overview of India Stack components
   - Aadhaar: Biometric Identification
   - UPI: Real-Time Payment System
   - DEPA: Data Empowerment and Protection Architecture
   - Evolution and impact of India Stack

Chapter 4. What is served on my plate? Benefits of Public Digital Backbone

   - Enhancing access to financial services
   - Streamlining welfare schemes and reducing corruption
   - Improving public service delivery
   - Fostering innovation and entrepreneurship

Chapter 5. Building a Public Digital Backbone

   - Stakeholder collaboration
   - Role of government and regulators
   - The private sector's contribution
   - Civil society and public participation
   - Engaging academia for research and policy design
   - Design principles and components
   - Implementation challenges and solutions

Chapter 6. Challenges and Risks

   - Data privacy concerns
   - Security and potential breaches
   - Inclusion: Ensuring no one is left behind
   - Governance models and oversight

Chapter 7. Global Relevance

   What is happening around the world?

Chapter 8. Conclusion

   - The future of Public Digital Backbone



   - Relevant regulations and policies
   - Case studies from other countries


Additional Related Topics


  1. The concept of “Data is the new oil of the modern world” Clive Humby, a British mathematician and entrepreneur who coined the phrase in 2006.
  2. The Digital Services Act
  4. DPI could help unlock a massive opportunity in the purple sector. Author: Shanti Raghavan
  5. AI can detect cancer at Tata Memorial Hospital
  6. 'Inevitable India' rings especially true in the sphere of technology By Debjani Ghosh, President of Nasscom |
  7. India needs it, India is ready for it, India will do it: Nandan Nilekani, Tanuj Bhojwani on country's AI potential.