The IT Ministry has refused to share copies of submissions sent to the Justice B.N. Srikrishna-led committee for data protection in response to an RTI application filed by Medianama. The Ministry has also refused to hand over minutes of the committee’s meetings. The ministry in its response said that the submissions were “confidential” and “not available for public dissemination” without the consent of the submitting entity. With regards to the ‘minutes of the meetings,’ the ministry said that it cannot be shared under Section 8(1)(i) of the RTI act.

This breaks with the precedent set by the Ministry on the very same committee; in February, the minutes of the meeting as at that time were made public. That happened after 24 legal academicians and advocates wrote to the panel seeking greater transparency, per Live Law.

It’s unusual for such a high-profile consultative process in the public interest to be happening with such a lack of transparency. TRAI consultations, for instance, by design make public all the submissions they get and give respondents time to file counter-responses. In contrast, none of the 75 responses to the Srikrishna Committee are being made available — at least not by the committee itself.

“It’s great that the Srikrishna Committee held town halls for the public, but it would be useful if the responses were available for public scrutiny since knowing what other stakeholders are saying would lead to a more informed debate,” TRA Law’s Nehaa Chaudhari told MediaNama. TRA Law’s blog posts have compared different responses acquired by Dvara Research to the Srikrishna Committee, and how they responded with respect to cross-border data flows and data localisation. Even the responses manually acquired by Dvara only account for little over a third of the responses to the committee’s white paper and doesn’t include any of the thousands of responses on MyGov.

Status of the committee

The Srikrishna Committee’s report has been pending for quite some time now. Originally said to be coming out near the middle of June, it was later announced to be coming out on Sunday. Now, a report suggests that the Srikrishna Committee is waiting for the Supreme Court’s judgement on several Aadhaar-related petitions, including on whether the Aadhaar project itself is constitutional, to finalize its report (there has been disagreement within the committee as to whether Aadhaar should be included in a data protection law’s ambit).

ReadOn the TRAI’s recommendations on Privacy

In a town hall in Mumbai, Justice Srikrishna responded to a concern by MediaNama on stakeholder submissions not being made public, saying, “You give your comments. Why do you worry about what anyone else has to say?”

Read the RTI and response

Here are the questions asked by MediaNama in our RTI application, and the IT Ministry’s verbatim responses.

Under the RTI Act please provide the following information.

i) Number of comments received for Justice Srikrishna Committee on Data Protection.

A: Total No. of respondents over email & Physical copy 75.
B: Total no. of respondents on My Gov 164. No of responses 8450.

ii) List of organizations and individuals who provided comments.
iii) Full copies of all individual and organization comments.

The submission made to the committee by an Individual / Agency/Company is confidential, and meant for examination by the committee only, also are not available for public dissemination without the explicit consent of the Individual / Agency/ Company.

v) Minutes of all meetings conducted by the committee so far.

The notes /minutes alluded to discussions that go into findings of the report which will later translate into a Bill, that has to be approved by the cabinet before it is introduced in parliament. Therefore cannot be shared under Section 8(1)(i)

iv) Copy of draft Data Protection Bill as drafted by the committee so far.
vi) Copy of draft Data Protection report as drafted by the committee so far.

Work in progress and therefore not available.