Book Review: ‘Private and Controversial’ by Smriti Parsheera

Public Health and Privacy in India: Navigating Complex Intersections


Book Title: Private and Controversial: When Public Health and Privacy Meet in India
Edited By: Smriti Parsheera
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Number of Pages: 428
ISBN: 978-9356295049
Date Published: Jan. 10, 2023
Price: INR 385

Private and Controversial by Smriti Parsheera Book Cover

Book Review

Private and Controversial: When Public Health and Privacy Meet in India” illuminates the complex relationships between public health and privacy in the context of contemporary developments in India. These developments include the control of the Covid-19 epidemic, ongoing disputes over creating a data privacy law, and the rising digitalization of the Indian health industry, notably through the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM). Although the COVID crisis triggers these debates, the book digs further into various subjects, including reproductive options, patient confidentiality, decisional autonomy, and the role of community health professionals.

The book, edited by Smriti Parsheera, a renowned public policy researcher focusing on the interface of digital technologies, law, and society, is a collection of articles from public health, law, economics, information technology, and computer science and technology policy professionals. The Foreword and the chapter on the Legal system of Public Health and Privacy are written by Justice BN Srikrishna, a former Supreme Court judge who was instrumental in developing India’s data protection system.

The book is organized into four parts, each with 14 chapters. The first section, titled “Current State of the World,” delves into India’s legislative framework regarding privacy and public health and the government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak. The second section, “India’s Public Health Machinery,” looks at the many levels of India’s public health apparatus, emphasizing the ABDM(Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission) project. This includes a critical examination of the architecture of health digitization, the role of community health professionals, and problems with privacy measures within ABDM.

Private and Controversial: When Public Health and Privacy Meet in India” examines the growing significance of data digitalization in India and worldwide, particularly in public health planning and governance. The National Digital Health Mission (ABDM) endeavors to digitize citizens’ health data, forming the “National Health Stack” accessible to both government and private sectors. The book also addresses concerns raised by experts regarding privacy issues within ABDM. However, India lacks an operational, legal framework for data protection, and the earlier Personal Data Protection Bill 2019, criticized for its measures on health data preservation, has been replaced by a new draft.
The book features numerous experts in law, policy, and sociology.

Still, only two contributors specialize in public health, resulting in underemphasized research areas, such as risks related to cross-border data accessibility, notably genetic information. While well-written, thoroughly researched, and supported by extensive bibliographies, the collection is a valuable resource for students of law, public health policy, and digital technologies, with standout chapters on trust, data management, privacy issues for community health professionals, and health-tracking technology. The chapter on artificial intelligence (AI) serves as a primer for readers interested in the topic, acknowledging AI’s potential beyond public health concerns.

Before concluding the review, a few points piqued my curiosity as a reader. The last chapter, ‘Artificial Intelligence and Healthcare,’ focuses on how collaborative the Indian healthcare business has become due to digitalization and AI. Because of AI’s fast advancement, it is now more efficient and cost-effective than human activities. AI has enormous promise in the Indian healthcare sector, revolutionizing medical treatments and improving worldwide patient experiences.

The Covid-19 epidemic has hastened the development of digital health technology, allowing millions of people to access healthcare remotely via telehealth platforms, smartphone symptom trackers, and remote monitoring, altering how healthcare is delivered. The data in the chapter’s Healthcare section is essential reading. Also, following the book’s last chapter, the appendix, and notes for each chapter demonstrate how much study has gone into the book.

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Finally, “Private and Controversial: When Public Health and Privacy Meet in India” this outstanding compilation accurately recognizes the issues within India’s present legislative framework involving privacy concerns in public health. However, it goes short of recommending corrective steps, which might cause more debate and controversy.