Where ignorance is bliss, /'tis folly to be wise.
Thomas Gray is commonly quoted today for the above lines. And yet, how often do we only quote "ignorance is bliss", while being ignorant of his actual context? Selective reading of this kind can often give rise to a different interpretation. But poetry thrives on interpretations, and differing theories are often given while interpreting the same piece of literature. Like poetry, law, too, by its nature is subject to frequent interpretation. But unlike poetry, law cannot afford to have multiple interpretations. One of our most vital modern laws is prone to just that, and worse, and it is a big cause of concern. Unless, of course, we have selectively read Gray's lines!
Unlike poetry, law cannot afford to have multiple interpretations. One of our most vital modern laws is prone to just that...
This is a tale of ignorance: that of our lawmakers towards our laws, our data and us. It is also a tale of our own ignorance of the implications of this. The laws in this tale are those relating to our data protection. The underlying theme of this tale is Gray and his (mis)quoted lines, and full poetic liberty has been taken to (mis)use it wherever (in)appropriate.
Ignorance of (drafting of) law
As a legal principle, ignorance of law is no excuse. In other words, the law is that you cannot ignore the law. Data protection laws -- or the laws which protect our data stored electronically from being misused by others during our day-to-day activities such as filling of forms, sharing photos or simply visiting a website -- mainly comprise the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the Sensitive Personal Data Rules, 2011. The resultant problem here is that you can neither follow the law and attain compliance (as the legal principle wants), nor ignore it and attain bliss (as a (mis)quoted Gray wants). The reason, simply, is ignorant drafting.
Since Knowledge is but sorrow's Spy, /It is not safe to know.
Interestingly, William Davenant's lines above are believed to be one of the inspirations for Gray's own words. And in spite of the totally different context, a person out to eat in a restaurant might agree with Davenant and choose to not know so much! Fortunately, common sense precludes a restaurant from following the letter of this law. Unfortunately, such examples abound of the absurdity this law creates in daily situations.
Much room for interpretation
You can neither follow the law and attain compliance... nor ignore it and attain bliss. The reason, simply, is ignorant drafting.
So what do companies do? They cannot ignore the law, but they would rather not follow this one literally. As seen above, common sense itself precludes a company to follow a literal interpretation of these rules. The only option is to utilize tools such as teleological interpretation, harmonious construction, systematic interpretation and suchlike.
No room for ignorance
So there is a law requiring interpretation and there are tools to interpret it -- isn't that how most legal frameworks are anyway? Perhaps they are, but this one is of immense impact and importance, and one of our most vital modern laws. And while the adequacy and contents of the framework are frequently debated, the least the laws could do is to be clear and unambiguous.
Data is the new oil, and the new currency. And with cyber-crime posing constant threats, and the BigData wave fast approaching, we cannot afford to be interpreting the shockingly absurd legal drafting and second guessing the laws. Companies should know what companies should do.
If our path ahead is blocked with any trouble, all the time before we find it out is always pure gain.
While Gray may have also been inspired by Terence, our gain is in not avoiding the path of trouble, but confronting it.
An earlier version of the post has been corrected for some errors regarding clarity, style of expression, and hyperlinks.