India Fast Facts

Personal Data Protection Bill Likely to be Tabled in the Budget Session

by | Dec 13, 2021 | In the news, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Current Winter Session
The Winter Session of the Parliament began on 29 November 2021 where the government had a few points on their agenda to complete, like introducing and passing the Farm Repeal Bill, before they could introduce and discuss the other 26 listed bills. This week the government had five bills to be introduced, but as of today, 13 December 2021, the session in the upper house was adjourned until afternoon as opposition members insisted the government to revoke suspension of 12 MPs. 

With the winter session running till 23 December 2021, there are approximately 8 days left to introduce important bills, as well as the Joint Parliamentary Committee’s report on Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 (PDP Bill 2019), which is expected to be tabled sometime between 20 – 23 December 2021.

Personal Data Protection Bill 2019

PDP Bill 2019 was first tabled in the Lower House of the parliament in December 2019 and covered mechanisms for protecting personal data, setting up of a Data Protection Authority, specified flow and use of personal data, cross-border data transfer, framework for processing data, norms and liabilities for social media intermediaries, and accountability of entities processing personal data. The bill also had an important provision which proposed exempting central government and any governmental agencies from the bill.

Though considered as a welcome step towards digital security and protection, certain sections of the industry had their reservations. Civil society citied that the open-ended exceptions given to the government, allowing for surveillance was unacceptable. The bill faced criticism even by Justice B. N. Srikrishna, drafter of the original Bill, who said that the bill had the ability to turn the country into an ‘Orwellian State’. The technology industry and industry bodies raised concerns that the bill did not mention any clear mechanisms on the processing of personal data.

The bill was then given to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to prepare a report. As per the Lok Sabha website, the JPC met 78 times over the last two years, conducted many deliberations and proposed over 200 amendments. It is likely that some the key proposed amendments also have inclusion of Non-Personal Data – information which cannot be used to identify a natural person. With this the bill may now be called the ‘Data Protection Bill’ instead of ‘Personal Data Protection Bill’. The JPC finally approved the report, with some dissent from opposition MPs, and asked for tabling it towards the end of this parliament session.

It is likely that the JPC has also recommended retention of the controversial clause which allows the government and governmental agencies to remain outside the purview of the bill. The opposition leaders are against this section as they are of the opinion that the bill creates two parallel universes — one for the private sector where the law would apply with full rigor and one for the Government where it is riddled with exemption, carve outs and escape clauses. Further, the JPC report may have stricter regulations for social media platforms, and for those social media platforms which do not act as intermediaries may be treated as publishers and held accountable for the content they host.

While the draft report by JPC was adopted by the Parliamentary panel on 22 November 2021, several opposition MPs including Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Mr. Manish Tewari, Mr. Derek O’Brien and Ms. Mahua Moitra submitted their notes of dissent.

The point on exempting government and governmental agencies from the bill continues to be a point of contention and may attract discord not only from the opposition but also protests from the civil society.

Given the present scenario, the government seems to be taking a cautious and slow approach rather than rushing with the bill so as to avoid a similar fate and criticism seen during the previous time with the three farm bills.

With this, while the JPC report is expected to be discussed in this winter session, the Personal Data Protection Bill may be tabled in the budget session, which is scheduled in February 2022.

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