According to a media report, the findings of the Madhavan Nambiar-Gulshan Rai committee that originally probed into Kerala’s Sprinklr controversy revealed that former IT Secretary M Sivasankar had unilaterally signed the contract with the US-based software company. The committee added that Pinarayi Vijayan, who has the charge of the IT Department, and the then Chief Secretary Tom Jose were unaware of the signing. Not having consulted with the law department before signing the agreement created a situation where the company had complete ownership of people’s data, says their report.
The Sprinklr controversy emerged after reports indicated that the state government had allowed the US tech firm to collect and collate the health information of over 1.7 lakh people in quarantine. The intention was to create grassroots level data that could help medical professionals and doctors deal with the situation. However, the problem was that all of this was done without the permission of the participants, raising serious concerns of violation of privacy.
Following the public outcry, the state government had appointed former Aviation Secretary Madhavan and cybersecurity expert Gulshan on April 2020 to probe into the matter. The government had claimed that even though the state had Centre for Development of Imaging Technology (C-DIT) and IT Mission, Sprinklr already had software ready for the job and that it was owned by a Keralite. However, the two-member committee found that the agreement was signed without the consultation of the law department, which is a serious lapse in procedure.
Moreover, following the controversy, the government had claimed that Sprinklr had transferred the data it had on the participants back to C-DIT servers. However, the report noted that it was unable to conclude on the problems relating to privacy, secrecy, and data security. This was because C-DIT had only provided limited information concerning the return of the data. The US Company had begun receiving data on participants from March 25, 2020, but C-DIT provided the committee with information from April 3 to 19 of the same year. The limited data sample held the committee back from formulating a definite conclusion on the matter.
Interestingly, despite matters on Covid-19 being a Health Department concern, the IT department did not consult them on the Sprinklr issue. Health Principal Secretary Rajan Khobragade had told the committee that the IT dept should have only played second fiddle to the Health dept. On top of that, the meetings by IT dept higher officials on the Sprinklr deal have been made informal and, despite multiple requests, the minutes of the same have not been provided to the committee.
Even though the duo had submitted a detailed report last year, the government had refused to release it to the public domain, despite repeated requests from the two experts. On top of it, the LDF government also set up a lower committee to study the findings of the higher committee, which was first in the state. The new committee comprise of K Sasidharan Nair, Former District Judge and former Law Secretary as Chairman; Dr A Vinaya Babu, retired Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, JNTUH College of Engineering, Hyderabad; and Dr Umesh Divakaran, Professor, Computer Science and Technology, College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram as expert members.
After redoing the job of the first committee, the final task of the new committee, according to the government order (GO) issued by the Chief Secretary, is to “analyse the report submitted by the Committee headed by M Madhavan Nambiar”. This would allow the second committee to reinterpret the report of the first committee in a manner that can provide justification to the government to reject any earlier inconvenient observations.