You’re reading it here first: The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is seeking additional comments on the Personal Data Protection Bill from a select group of stakeholders, S. Gopalakrishnan, Joint Secretary MEITY confirmed to MediaNama. Responses from the select stakeholders have been sought by August 25th 2019 by MEITY.

On being asked about whether there will be a public consultation as well, Gopalakrishnan told MediaNama that no public consultation will follow, and they have only sought clarifications from some people (note: the questions, listed below don’t seem to be ‘clarifications’), because MEITY wanted additional feedback, in continuation to feedback being given to the draft data protection bill. MediaNama checked and multiple industry and civil society stakeholders who participated in the data protection bill consultation have said that they haven’t received any such questions from MEITY. Gopalakrishnan told MediaNama that given that the ministry had received comments from over 600 entities, they will not reach out to 600 entities for further comments.

Questions, of which MediaNama has received copies from multiple industry stakeholders include the following, although Gopalakrishnan did not specifically confirm them, saying that the questions aren’t secret. They cover data localisation, enabling free access to non-personal and anonymised data, whether the Data Protection Authority should also govern non-personal data.

The additional questions

  • Does the draft Bill impose adequate obligations on the data fiduciary?
  • The draft bill proposes that all personal data needs to be stored in India whereas
    significant number of feedback received suggests that restriction on cross border
    flow of data may be limited to sensitive or critical personal data. Do you feel it is
    necessary to mandate storage of all types of personal data in India?
  • The role, scope, powers and authority of the regulator proposed – Data Protection
    Authority of India (DPA)?
  • What could be the contours of a policy that should govern non-Personal Data such
    as community data, anonymized data, e-commerce data etc.?
  • Could there be a case for mandating free access to such non personal data such as
    community data, anonymized data, e-commerce data etc.?
  • Should the DPA also be the regulator in respect of all non- personal data?
  • Any other related matter.

Questions about these questions

1. Why the secrecy from MEITY? If MEITY is seeking further comments from specific stakeholders, why is there secrecy around both the questions and who they are seeking these comments from? Why is there no press release on MEITY and PIB websites about this additional comment-seeking, with the questions, and a list of stakeholders from whom additional comments have been sought?

2. Why are new issues being introduced? Community data and e-commerce data specifically were not a part of the Srikrishna Committee consultation, or the consultation on the personal data protection bill. Why are these new issues being introduced this late in the day, when the Personal Data Protection Bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament in December?

3. Why isn’t there further consultation on new issues? Given that new issues are being introduced, why isn’t there further consultation from MEITY? These are clearly not clarifications: they are additional questions.

An industry executive, on condition of anonymity, said “It seems as if some of the questions on the economic value of data are completely undermining the Srikrishna view of the bill and its approach which focuses on control versus ownership. What was the point of the consultation? These are questions which introduce significant new dimensions and it’s not okay that a handful of folk have been invited to speak to these.”

Another said that “I fail to understand why so much secrecy around this fresh round of consultation. The Srikrishna Committee’s consultations were extremely elaborate to start with but they are now shrouded in secrecy. First, the ministry refused to make the comments on the Bill public and now this. The industry and civil society has walked hand in hand on this Bill with the government, but this process will increase mistrust, and likely more adversarial reactions from the industry and civil society.”