MPs raise concerns over exemptions in Data Protection Bill

BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi. File   | Photo Credit: K.V.S. Giri

Ten members of the 30-member joint parliamentary committee on the Data Protection Bill, 2019, have moved amendments against the provision in the legislation giving power to the Central government to exempt any agency of the government from application of the Act. The members have said this clause makes the entire act infructuous.

The Bill seeks to provide protection of personal data of individuals and was introduced in December last year in Lok Sabha. It was referred to the joint parliamentary committee, headed by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi, in February this year.

Congress MPs Jairam Ramesh, Manish Tewari, and Gaurav Gogoi, Trinamool Congress MPs Derek O’ Brien and Mahua Moitra, along with Biju Janta Dal MP Bharatuhari Mahtab and Amar Patnaik, BSP MP Ritesh Pandey, Shiv Sena MP Shrikant Eknath Shinde and BJP MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar have moved amendments to this contentious Clause 35 of the legislation. The Hindu has accessed a copy of the amendments moved by the committee members.

Wide range of issues

Invoking “sovereignty and integrity of India”, “public order”, “friendly relations with foreign states” and “security of the state”, the legislation gives powers to the Central government to suspend all or any of the provisions of this Act for government agencies.

Five of the MPs — Jairam Ramesh Derek O’ Brien, Mahua Moitra, Ritesh Pandey and Amar Patnaik — want the act to be suitably amended, vesting the power in Parliament instead of the Central government to approve any such exemption. Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi and Manish Tewari want judicial approval for it.

While moving the amendment, Mr. Ramesh argued, “The powers given to the Central government for exemptions are all-encompassing so as to make the legislation virtually infructuous.”

Contravenes Art. 21

Mr. Tewari while moving his amendment to this clause, submitted that since privacy has been held to be a fundamental right, it, therefore, is subject to the rigors of Article 21 of the Constitution of India and an exception cannot be made for the government.

Shiv Sena MP Shrikant Eknath Shinde wants the entire clause to be deleted. In his submission, Mr Shinde said, “This section is subject to abuse and runs contrary to Article 14 and 21 along with Puttaswamy judgment which deals with Right to Privacy. I suggest that this section should be deleted considering the already existing provisions under the law.”

On the other hand, Mr. Chandrashekhar of the BJP wants further tightening of the existing clause, adding “health emergencies’, ‘public safety emergencies’ as the other scenarios allowing the Centre to step in to provide exemptions.

On social media

Several objections have also been raised regarding Clause 26 of the legislation that deals with social media, with five members moving amendments. Mr Tewari of the Congress has moved an amendment seeking changes to make it mandatory for every social media intermediary to identify all its subscribers. He further has moved that if any social media intermediary fails to comply then it should be liable for a fine “that shall not be less than 3% and not exceed 5% of its total global turnover and shall be punishable with an imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years”. He further has pushed for provisions to ensure that all non-verified accounts on social media are mandatorily purged within a time limit.

The other members have, however, argued that the Bill’s intervention in social media could be fatal to the existing system. “The Bill’s regulation of social media is strictly outside the ambit of data privacy. Discretionary thresholds may cause uncertainty and a negative impact on businesses and free speech,” BJD’s Amar Patnaik argued.

The members also want that the Bill’s definition of “child” should be revised. Presently as per the act, anyone below 18-years of age has been described as a child. Shiv Sena’s Shrikant Eknath Shinde who wants the age to be lowered to 12-years has argued that the present COVID-19 pandemic has forced digital education on children which leaves them vulnerable.

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 12:44:15 AM |

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