Selling their own data can help poor Indians improve their lives and small businesses get better access to credit, Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani said on Thursday. He said systems like Aadhaar and electronic transactions had helped build a “data empowerment architecture” in India.

Indians will be data-rich before they are economically rich, unlike in the West, Nilekani said. This will help them create business models that can “empower them to use their plentiful data they generate” to get easier credit, better healthcare, better skills and welfare benefits, he said at the Future Global Digital Summit in Kochi.

“If you are data-rich before you are economically rich, or you are a small business that is data-rich but doesn’t have access to capital, you can take your data and, in some sense, monetise it for yourself – not for somebody else, but for yourself – to get credit, or better healthcare, better skills,” Nilekani said.

Data privacy and surveillance are major concerns that petitions in the Supreme Court have raised against the Aadhaar biometric identification system.

“Our nation would probably be the first country in the world to have a data empowerment infrastructure for its people,” he said. “We are approaching an era where everybody has a digital ID number, a device to communicate with and a bank account. This is fundamental digital infrastructure. Mobiles, bank accounts and Aadhaar are three pillars of a digital world and everyone will have the three things.”

Nilekani is a former chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India. He was speaking the same day on which UIDAI Chief Executive Officer Ajay Bhushan Pandey gave a presentation to the Supreme Court to show that Aadhaar data is secure. A Constitution bench is hearing petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the biometric identification programme.