Several MPs have expressed their dissent to the Joint Committee of Parliament on the Personal Data Protection Bill after the panel adopted its draft report at a meeting on Monday.
These include Congress MPs Jairam Ramesh, Manish Tewari, Vivek Tankha and Gaurav Gogoi, Trinamool Congress legislators Derek O’Brien and Mahua Moitra and Biju Janata Dal’s Amar Patnaik, reported The Mint, citing unidentified officials.
The parliamentary committee is tasked with examining the draft data protection bill, which proposes to put restrictions on the use of personal information of people without their explicit consent. The items covered by the draft bill include consent, personal data, exemptions that can be granted, storage restrictions for personal data and individual rights.
On Monday, Ramesh said that he was compelled to submit a dissent note as he could not convince the panel to accept the amendments he proposed to sections 35 and 12 of the Bill.
Section 35 gives the Centre power to exempt any government agency from the purview of the Bill in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of state, foreign relations and public order.
Section 12 provides exceptions to the condition under which the government can collect the personal data of individuals without their consent.
On Section 35, Ramesh proposed to make parliamentary approval mandatory for government agencies for exempting any agencies from the purview of the law.
He also suggested removing “public order” as a ground to seek exemption. The Congress MP argued that “public order” is often conflated with “law and order” and “security of state”, enabling its misuse.
“This would [the proposed changes] bring greater accountability and transparency, but even this was not acceptable,” Ramesh said in a letter to PP Chaudhary, the chairperson of the panel.
On Section 12, the Congress MP proposed adding “proportionate” as a condition besides necessity for collecting personal data of individual without their consent. Ramesh cited a Supreme Court verdict to argue that any restriction of a person’s fundamental right must pass a proportionality test.
“Hence, a requirement of proportionality should be introduced in Section 12 to better safeguard the interests of the individual in case of any non-consensual processing,” he said.
Bill creates ‘two parallel universes’, says Manish Tewari
In his letter to Chaudhary, Tewari said the Bill was conceived with a pre-Puttaswamy case mindset that does not capture the essence of the landmark verdict.
He was referring to the 2017 verdict in which a nine-judge Supreme Court bench held that the right to privacy was a fundamental right protected under Article 21 of the Constitution, which upholds the right to life.
Tewari said that the Bill creates “two parallel universes” – one of the private sector and where it is applied with “full rigour” and another for the government where it is full with exceptions and escape clauses.
“In my limited experience of three decades as a litigator, I have always been taught and made to appreciate that a fundamental right principally enforceable against the state,” he said.
Tewari said that the Bill violates the 2017 right to privacy verdict.
On his reservations about the Bill that were part of his dissent note, Gogoi said there was a lack of attention being paid to harms arising from surveillance and effort to establish a modern surveillance framework.
Data protection Bill
The Joint Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill comprises 20 members from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha. It had first got an extension to review the bill till the Winter Session of Parliament last year. It then received more extensions and will now be tabled in the Winter Session that will begin on November 29 this year.
The committee has held meetings with civil society members, industry representatives and other stakeholders in the process of reviewing the Bill.