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India’s Data Protection Bill tabled in the Lok Sabha: MPs voice concern

Many including Shashi Tharoor, former Chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology, asked for the Bill to be sent back for revision on grounds of violating basic rights like privacy.

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The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill 2023 was tabled before the Lok Sabha on August 3, 2023, amidst protests from Opposition MPs by Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. Many including Shashi Tharoor, former Chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology, asked for the Bill to be sent back for revision on grounds of violating basic rights like privacy.

Read the Bill Summary here

Responding to protests against the Bill being called a finance Bill, Vaishnaw clarified that the government has tabled the Bill as an ordinary Bill. However, as per the Bill’s listing on the Parliament website, it is tagged as a “financial Bill.”

Here are the concerns presented by the MPs:

Wide-ranging exemptions to the government: Congress MP Manish Tewari said the Bill requires serious reconsideration by a joint parliamentary committee because “it is in complete contradiction to the fundamental right of privacy upheld by the Supreme Court in the Puttuswamy judgment…This Bill cleaves the entire digital universe into two parts. The Bill will apply with full force to all non-governmental organizations and the entire government universe is going to be exempt from it. So, therefore, the fundamental right to privacy laid down by the Supreme Court in Puttuswamy stands assaulted by the provisions.”

He also opposed the introduction of the Bill as a finance Bill. He said, “under Rule 72, two of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of the Lok Sabha, I hereby rise to oppose the introduction of the bill. I oppose it on three counts. First of all, a bill which was considered by the joint Parliamentary Committee, came back to the House, was withdrawn by the government… [and] reintroduced, cannot be introduced as a finance bill.”

No clarity on compensation: NCP MP Supriya Sule pointed out there is no compensation clause for a victim whose data is compromised. “There is no compensation. There is penalty. But what about a victim? There is no clarity of compensation and right to privacy is completely abated. So, anybody can have our data. There is no privacy. So request the Minister to kindly reconstruct[sic].”

She also pointed out that the penalty clause in the Bill was reduced from INR 2,500 crores to INR 250 crore. Another concern was the “excessive centralization of all the data. Everything will be controlled. It’s a complete insult and hurting the spirit of the federal structure…even the right to information is diluted. The Government of India will be completely protected. Others will be completely exposed,” Sule argued 

Bill will create a surveillance state: AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi asked for a revision of the Bill based on four arguments:

  1. The 2023 Bill violates the right to privacy. 
  2. The RTI amendment introduced within this Bill violates freedom of religion. 
  3. The Bill empowers the government to access people’s private data. “This is likely to create a surveillance state,” he said.
  4. It is anti-woman because only one in three women use the internet. 

Bill should be sent back to the Committee: Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and former Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology said ministers have repeatedly asked the Ministry to take the committee into confidence. 

“It is a matter of disappointment that to the best of my knowledge the committee has not been asked to study this Bill which has been repeatedly modified by the government and is brought in its third iteration to this House. In this condition, given the vast number of objections you have heard, Mr. Chairman, I would urge that the bill be sent to the Standing Committee for proper examination as a new bill because the three different versions do not match and they have been done without consultation with the committee whose mandate it is,” Tharoor argued

Committee’s recommendations not included in the Bill: RSP MP N K Premchandra said that the Standing Committee had recently submitted a Parliamentary Committee report with recommendations to the 2023 Bill. 

“Without looking into the recommendation of the Standing Committee coming with a new bill it is not fair and proper on the part of the Minister in introducing the bill,” said Premchandra

RTI amendment allows for corrupt practices: Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that the amendment to Right to Information Act introduces “an era of corruption because new personal data like assets and liabilities, education, qualification of corrupt government functionaries cannot be asked for under RTI.”

Like Sule, he also criticised the Bill for not providing compensation to individuals whose personal data has been compromised or who has suffered loss due to threat to personal data. 

Other MPs who raised objections in the Lok Sabha were Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi and TMC MP, Saugata Roy.

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Note: The article was updated with Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s full name at  1:47 PM on August 4, 2023.

Note: The headline was updated on August 3, 2023, at 3:56 PM for clarity. 

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I'm interested in the shaping and strengthening of rights in the digital space. I cover cybersecurity, platform regulation, gig worker economy. In my free time, I'm either binge-watching an anime or off on a hike.

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