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Joint Parliamentary Committee on PDP Bill adopts its draft report

The meeting is being held a week before the winter session of the parliament is set to commence.

The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill has adopted its draft report and will be tabled in the Parliament in the Winter Session, confirmed Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh, Lok Sabha MP Manish Tewari. Earlier in the day, Ramesh and other Committee members sat down for a meeting to consider and adopt the draft report prepared, according to the Lok Sabha website. The two meetings were scheduled from 11 am to 1 pm, and the second from 2 pm onwards.

Ramesh in a tweet said, “Finally, it is done. The Joint Committee of Parliament has adopted its report on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019. There are dissent notes, but that is in the best spirit of parliamentary democracy. Sadly, such examples are few and far between under the Modi regime.”

The committee has been deliberating the draft PDP Bill since 2019, and is expected to submit its report during the winter session of the parliament. The much-delayed report of the bill was expected to be tabled during the previous session of the parliament. However, after 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 landmark Puttaswamy judgement in 2017, the government has been under an obligation to pass legislation to protect Indians’ personal data. Various aspects of the bill such as setting up a data protection authority, localisation requirements for data, have been closely watched by the private sector for years.

What has the JPC been discussing?

According to a report by 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.

Exemptions to government agencies: According to the 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.

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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.

Government agencies asked to be exempted from PDP Bill

Recently, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the Income Tax (IT) department asked the Joint Parliamentary Committee to be exempted from the PDP Bill it, according to reports in The Hindu and Hindustan Times. This comes despite the 2019 draft of the same bill being criticised for providing broad exemptions to government bodies under some clauses.

The UIDAI asked for blanket exemptions from the draft bill since it was already being governed by the Aadhaar Act, reported The Hindu. The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 lays down how the unique ID will be used for welfare delivery, also covering how data will be collected and shared, although, it has been criticised for not having enough privacy safeguards.

Timeline of the bill’s progress

  • 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 elevated to a minister in the Union Cabinet.
  • July 2021: Committee is granted extension to present report in Winter Session.
  • November 2021: Committee holds meeting to discuss consideration and adoption of its draft report.

Also read:

Update, November 22, 2.43 pm: Copy updated with confirmation that the Joint Parliamentary Committee on PDP has adopted its draft report.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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