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Fresh report on Data Protection Bill to be presented in coming Parliament session

The parliamentary committee studying the bill is set to table its report while concerns around stakeholder representation swarm.

After almost two years of consultation and deliberation, the Joint Parliamentary Committee’s report on India’s Personal Data Protection Bill is set to be tabled during the winter session of Parliament and could be circulated among members of the committee by November 6, according to a report by the Hindustan Times.

The much-delayed report of the bill was previously expected to be tabled during the previous session of the parliament. However, amidst a change in committee leadership and memberships, the JPC asked for an extension till the winter session. Under a newly-appointed chairperson, the JPC revisited the bill to reportedly discuss new recommendations to the bill.

Since the Puttaswamy judgement in 2017 by the Supreme Court of India, the government has been under an obligation to pass legislation to protect Indians’ personal data. Setting up a data protection authority, localisation requirements for data, and other aspects of the bill have been closely watched by the private sector for years. Even as uncertainty looms over the current contours of the bill, data breaches continue to be regularly reported, with companies facing little to no consequences for such incidents.

What has the JPC been discussing?

According to the Hindustan Times, over 100 drafting changes were proposed to the bill with clause-by-clause discussions and comparisons. Some of the significant ones among them are:

Non personal data protection:  Changing the name of the draft Personal Data Protection Bill to the ‘Data Protection Bill’ as it will regulate non-personal data, as reported by the Hindustan Times.

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Exemptions to government agencies: According to the latest Hindustan Times report, there was a lack of unanimity and heated discussions on exemptions granted to government agencies under the bill. An earlier report by The Hindu had said that 10 of the 30 members in the committee have moved amendments against those provisions and opposition members in the committee said that they will be filing a dissent note regarding the matter.

Intermediary liability for social media companies: Treating social media networks like publishers and removing their safe harbour protection for  “selecting, modifying, editing, blocking, muting, amplifying content or removing users from its platform,” was being considered by the committee, as per an HT report. The report quotes an unnamed government official as saying that such an amendment would override section 79 of the IT Act and have an impact on the standing of the IT Rules, 2021.

Concerns around stakeholder representation

The need for another round of stakeholder consultations on the bill, given reports of new changes to the draft, was raised by Maadhyam, in a letter to Chairman P.P. Chaudhary and other members of the JPC.

The civic-engagement group which is focused on parliamentary affairs said that “civil society had largely been ignored”, and urged the JPC to hold consultations with a wider group of stakeholders, beyond industry representations. According to Maadhyam, the following have been invited for consultation:

  • 18 corporate and industry bodies
  • 8 ministry and government bodies
  • 4 law firms or law schools
  • 3 think tanks or advocacy groups
  • No civil society organisations, citizen groups, or independent experts.

Timeline of the progress on the bill

  • July 2018: The PDP Bill is first drafted by an expert committee headed by Justice BN Srikrishna.
  • October 2018: Subsequently, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology says that it will be drafting the bill.
  • December 2019: The bill is referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee and BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi is appointed chairperson.
  • September 2020: The committee requests and obtains an extension of time for the presentation of their report.
  • December 2020: The committee undertakes a clause-by-clause review of the bill.
  • March 2021:  Once again, the committee requests and obtains an extension of time for the presentation of their report.
  • July 2021: Lok Sabha speaker rules out any further extension for submission of the report
  • July 2021: PP Chaudhary is appointed as the new chairperson of the JPC after Meenakshi Lekhi gets appointed as a minister in the Union Cabinet.
  • July 2021: Committee granted extension to present report in Winter Session

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I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

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