The lack of exemptions for journalists in the Digital Personal Data Protection Act will bring journalism in the country to a standstill, the Editors Guild of India said in a letter to the Union Ministry for Electronics and Information Technology.

The letter, which was submitted to the Centre on Friday, was made public by the guild on Sunday.

The Act, which was passed by Parliament in August, lays down obligations on private and government entities pertaining to the collection and processing of citizens’ data.

The law also requires data fiduciaries to obtain consent for processing a citizen’s personal data as a matter of routine and grants the individual the right to access, correct, erase, port and restrict their data. It proposes a penalty of up to Rs 250 crore on entities for misusing or failing to protect the digital data of individuals.

A “data fiduciary”, according to the Act, is any entity that processes any personal data. They are the subject of most of the obligations imposed by the Act.

On Sunday, the Editors Guild of India said that it was concerned about the provision as it did not grant exemption to journalists and can impact journalistic activities.

“Specifically, the Guild is concerned about the need for consent, under Section 7 of the DPDPA [Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023], to process any personal data in the course of their journalistic activities,” the news association said.

Absence of any exemptions for journalistic activities will render journalists solely dependent on consent to process any personal data in the course of their work.

“The fundamental role of the press and its ability to ensure transparency and accountability would be severely undermined by the data principal’s ability to simply refuse consent to the processing of their data,” the guild said.

The law does not mention processing personal data for journalistic activities as one of its exemptions.

The letter said that most of the journalistic work such as investigative journalism, general news reporting, opinion pieces and analyses are largely dependent on private research and investigative study by journalists, which is not mentioned in the list of legitimate uses.

Journalists will invariably have to rely upon consent to process any personal data in the course of their journalistic activities, the guild added.

The Editors Guild also said that the earlier iterations of the data protection law, except the 2022 Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, had exempted data processing for journalistic purposes from complying with most of the provisions in those draft legislations, including the obligation to provide notice and obtain consent.

The press body urged the Centre to create an exemption for journalists in the law.

“Such an exemption is particularly justified given that the absence of such a carve-out will have a necessarily adverse impact on the right to freedom of speech and expression, and the right of journalists to carry on their occupation,” it said.

Also read: