No laws in India to protect customers if they lose money during digital transactions

The lack of basic privacy and security laws pertaining to digital payments in India puts the onus on consumers who use such services

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India lacks laws to protect consumers if they lose money during digital transactions even as the government pushes for a less-cash economy after it withdrew Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes as the legal tender.
The Modi government's demonetisation move might have warranted an increase in transaction activity on digital wallets, but measures to ensure the underlying cyber security parameters for digital payments is still kept largely under the ambit of the Information Technology Act.

"We don't have any dedicated law on digital payments. That's very important to grant complete legality and remove and doubts and clarifications pertaining to legal efficacies and legal validity of digital payments," says Pavan Duggal, an advocate in the Supreme Court specialising in cyber law.

While the Reserve Bank of India usually sets security and privacy standards for banks in the country, the various digital wallets such as Paytm, Freecharge and Mobikwik fall under the category of Non-banking Financial Corporations (NBFCs) excluding them from this. For FinTech companies, security compliance falls under just Section 43 A of the IT Act.

Today, transactions between a user and a mobile wallet service provider are merely contractual agreements which can always be repudiated. There's a heightened need to legally back digital payments in India, not only to ensure the safety of consumer money but also for the safety of these companies.

Since the demonetisation on November 8, digital wallet firms such as Paytm have seen  35 million transactions by users to either buy goods and services, or transfer funds to another account. Rival Freecharge has tied up with police forces of Mumbai to pay traffic fines using its platform.

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Research by  Bengaluru-based think tank Centre for Internet and Society (CIS)  shows that some of India's largest technology companies still do not comply with Section 43 A.

"We have a minimal data protection law in our IT Act and that will apply to all the FinTech players. But our ISPs and Telcos don't comply with Section 43 A, so you can imagine in the FinTech sector the compliance will be even lower," says Sunil Abraham, Executive Director at CI

The lack of basic privacy and security laws pertaining to digital payments in India puts the onus on consumers who use such services. While the issue is not being completely ignored by the authorities, some of the proposed workarounds such as creating a virtual sandbox around digital payment services raised questions.

The RBI limits the maximum balance on digital wallets to Rs 10,000 per user, ensuring that in the case of a breach the damage caused to a consumer is minimal but on November 23, the banking regulator increased the limit to Rs 20,000 .

Just last week India's largest digital wallet provider Paytm rolled out the option for customers to increase their wallet balance to a maximum of Rs 100,000 by getting a KYC check done.

"There are no legal mechanisms available should there be disputes pertaining to digital payments,"aid Duggal. He added that there are  no effective remedy mechanisms available in case money  in the digital payment ecosystem gets lost, hacked, stolen or misused.

While laws might take years to be framed and implemented, Abraham says there are temporary workarounds with which the overall cyber security of digital payment services can be improved. Under Section 43 A there are provisions to allow a sector to form a consortium that mutually agrees to set security standards, which all players must follow and is valid in the court of law during dispute resolution.

This move is encouraged by experts as governments often lack the bandwidth to define sectoral specific laws but is where private sector expertise can go a long way. 

First Published: Dec 2 2016 | 12:50 PM IST

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