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India’s Data Protection Bill will greatly undermine press freedom: DIGIPUB

“The requirement of parental consent for access to online news publications, especially for Children from the ages 13 to 17, when they’re beginning to form their world view, will greatly restrict their access to legitimate news sources,” was one of the several concerns raised by the Foundation.

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The DIGIPUB News India Foundation*, an industry body representing digital media organisations, issued a statement on August 7 noting that the Digital Personal Data Protection (DPDP) Bill, 2023, could “potentially impinge on citizens’ and journalists’ rights to privacy, information, and freedom of expression.”

The organisation joins the Editors Guild of India in raising concerns about how the Bill will greatly undermine press freedom.

The DPDP Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on August 7 amidst opposition and will have to be introduced and passed in the Rajya Sabha next.

Concerns raised by DIGIPUB

  • Censorship: The DPDP Bill gives the government content-blocking powers that go beyond existing provisions under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. The Bill also allows a person who consented to share personal data with a news publication/journalist to exercise the right to erasure and have personal information and/or the news article removed even if public interest is greater. “More often than not, those who want to be forgotten are the ones who need to be remembered,” the statement read.
  • Exemptions for publicly available data: By exempting publicly available personal data from provisions of the Bill, “artificial intelligence and surveillance/profiling companies can use automated tools to scrape and profile data of every Indian citizen from their social media profiles, as well as from news publications, without their consent.”
  • Copyright concerns: Exemption to publicly available data “not only enables the usage of automated tools to profile citizens, including journalists, it also potentially enables the scraping of content of media publications and reports about individuals which amounts to a violation of copyright,” DIGIPUB pointed out.
  • Surveillance: The Bill lacks any surveillance reform and “can lead to significantly hampering journalistic activities in the country by enabling surveillance of journalists and their sources.”
  • Lack of exemptions for journalists: The Bill fails to provide any exemption for journalistic activities despite the Justice Srikrishna Committee recommending such an exemption. “At times, journalism about individuals is at odds with their need for personal data protection, and information sought to be kept private needs to be made public, in public interest,” the statement explained.
  • Impact on the right to information: “The Right to Information Act has been a critical tool for journalists to hold the government to account in public interest,” and the proposed amendment weakens the Act as it will allow the government to deny RTI requests if the information pertains to personal information. “We’re already seeing RTI requests from journalists being rejected on frivolous grounds, and being overturned only on appeals. This change will significantly hinder the ability of journalists to seek information of importance to reporting in public interest,” the statement elaborated.
  • Access to news by children: “We’re concerned that the requirement of parental consent for access to online news publications, especially for Children from the ages 13 to 17, when they’re beginning to form their world view, will greatly restrict their access to legitimate news sources,” DIGIPUB noted.
  • Lack of independence of the Data Protection Board: The proposed Data Protection Board will not be able to hold the government to account as the members and chairperson will be appointed by the government.

DIGIPUB urged the IT Ministry to review the concerns highlighted above and have a Parliamentary Standing Committee reconsider the Bill and formulate legislation that does not encroach on peoples’ rights.

*Disclaimer: MediaNama is a member of DIGIPUB and was involved in the drafting of the statement.

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