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Data Protection Bill: Government Hopes to Pass New Bill by Budget Session

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After withdrawing the personal data protection bill, the government is hopeful of getting a new legislation passed by the Budget session of Parliament, Union Minister of Electronics & Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw said on Wednesday. The government on Wednesday withdrew the Personal Data Protection Bill from the Lok Sabha. The Joint Committee on Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, headed by BJP member P P Chaudhary, had tabled its report in Lok Sabha on December 16, 2021.

Vaishnaw told PTI that the joint committee gave a very good report in which they have recommended 81 amendments in a Bill of 99 sections.

“Over and above that, there are 12 more major recommendations. So with this as background, there was no way but to put a fresh draft.

“Without compromising with any of the principles of privacy or with the SC judgement…we have prepared a new draft. We have completed the Parliament’s process today and very soon we will be taking the new draft through the approval process. Very soon hopefully by the Budget session we should be able to get the new law passed,” Vaishnaw said.   Minister of State for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar said the government will come up with a comprehensive framework covering all aspects of the digital economy with dedicated rules for data privacy, emerging technologies, and data governance framework.

According to sources, the next version of the Bill along with the IT Act amendment, national data governance framework etc will be placed in Parliament to address all issues of the IT sector, including data privacy.

Chandrasekhar said the version of the bill tabled by the Joint Committee of Parliament (JCP) had covered wide issues which required to be addressed under various rules and were not specific to data privacy.

“After considerable deliberation, and examining of the report, it has found that there is a need for a comprehensive redrawing of the laws and rules, taking into account some of the JCP’s comments and the emerging challenges and opportunities that the contemporary challenges and future opportunities that arise here,” the minister said.

The bill was withdrawn after Cabinet approval.

Chandrasekhar said the report of the JCP identified a large number of issues and challenges that are part of the contemporary issues with digital ecosystems.

“Those are obviously issues that fall outside the domain of privacy and clearly catalyze the need of a thought process with the government. We need a much more comprehensive look at all of the elements of jurisprudence, laws, rules and framework that are important to the continuing growth of the innovation ecosystem and the digital economy,” the minister said.

The JCP version of the bill delved into various aspects including significant social media intermediaries, personal and non-personal data, trusted hardware etc which fall under the ambit of different laws and jurisdictions.

“Essentially, the decision today was we withdraw this and very quickly, go back with a framework of new laws, but a comprehensive framework of laws will be introduced to address all the concerns,” Chandrasekhar said.

The government will now simultaneously work on IT Act amendment, data protection, national data governance framework, cyber security etc and table them in Parliament.

“Citizens will continue to have the fundamental right of Right to Privacy as ruled by the Supreme Court. The withdrawal of the bill does not have any impact on the fundamental right of citizens,” Chandrasekhar said.

IT industry players have appreciated the government’s move to withdraw the personal data protection bill and sought participation in the consultation process of the fresh draft. The industry was critical of the data protection bill tabled in Parliament by the Joint Committee on Personal Data Protection Bill.

The Joint Committee on Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, headed by BJP member P P Chaudhary had tabled its report in Lok Sabha on December 16, 2021 which had a number of different points than the draft protection data bill (PDP) Bill prepared by the Ministry of Electronics and IT.

The government on Wednesday withdrew the Personal Data Protection Bill from Lok Sabha and said it will come out with a “set of fresh legislations” that will fit into the comprehensive legal framework.

US-based ITI, whose members include all IT majors like Google, Meta, and Amazon, appreciated the government’s move to withdraw the Parliamentary panel version of the bill.

“ITI welcomes Meity’s plan to implement a robust stakeholder consultation as it reconsiders a comprehensive legal privacy framework for the digital ecosystem. ITI participated in all consultative processes during the framing of the PDP bill 2019 and are eager to continue our engagement. We are certain that the government will consider all the views once the consultation on the framework begins and look forward to participating,” ITI country manager for India, Kumar Deep said.

ITI was among global industry bodies that had opposed the joint committee version of the bill. Such global industry bodies included JEITA, TechUK, US India Business Council, and Business Europe which represent thousands of companies and technology majors like Google, Amazon, Cisco, Dell, SoftBank and Microsoft.

Around a dozen of industry bodies had written to the Union IT and telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw that implementation of the proposed Data Protection Bill, as recommended by a Parliamentary panel, will significantly degrade India’s business environment and reduce foreign investment inflows.

Meta in regulatory filing in February had said that proposed data protection bills in countries such as India, are considering or have passed legislation implementing data protection requirements or requiring local storage and processing of data or similar requirements that could increase the cost and complexity of delivering our services.

“New legislation or regulatory decisions that restrict our ability to collect and use information about minors may also result in limitations on our advertising services or our ability to offer products and services to minors in certain jurisdictions,” it had said.

Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) said that the bill has been withdrawn after four years of deliberations.

“We are cautiously watching these developments & hope the Ministry will use this opportunity to address the numerous criticisms of the bill made by various stakeholders during the consultation process,” IFF said.

According to IFF, the Data Protection Bill 2021, which should empower the user with rights surrounding their own personal information, had failed to prioritise the user and instead, benefits the government and large corporations way more than it benefits users.

In a paper, IFF had said that the bill gives large exemptions to government departments, prioritises the interests of big corporations, and does not adequately respect people’s fundamental right to privacy.

“This move, when taken with the lack of literacy around data protection in India, may be dangerous on an individual level – where your everyday privacy is threatened – and on a collective level, given how it makes allowances for mass surveillance,” IFF had alleged.

Cyber security company Voyager Infosec director Jiten Jain said that the government’s move to withdraw the bill shows that it is well aware of concerns raised by some sections of the industry and civil societies.

“We expect the new version of the bill will be comprehensive and allay all major concerns that have been raised by the stakeholders.

However, the government should move quickly with the fresh version of the bill because we cannot allow foreign companies to take our citizen’s data for a ride,” Jain said. 

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