Representatives of National Investigative Agency (NIA) and the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) have asked parliamentarians to tweak the ‘Personal Data Protection Bill 2019’, under consideration by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC).
The JPC members met on Monday, was attended by representatives of investigative agencies and the Registrar General of India.
The point of contention was Section 35 of the bill, which gives the Union government the power to issue reasoned orders exempting any government agency from the application of any/all provisions of the bill for reasons listed in the provisions. The investigative agencies felt that Section 35 should include Section 36 of the bill, which calls for certain exemptions while dealing with personal data, in the interest of prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of any offence.
“These organisations have supported the Bill but they want that Section 35 and 36 should be read together or Section 36 become part of Section 35 in the Bill. There will be more deliberations on these issues and only then a final decision will be taken,” a senior member of the committee told Mint.
The two clauses in the bill have been flagged by opposition members and domain experts for expanding the scope of exemptions while diluting important safeguards. According to a special report by policy think-tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF), “blanket exemptions and lack of executive or judicial safeguards will fail to meet the standards laid out by the Supreme Court in the KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India case, where it ruled that measures restricting the right to privacy must be backed by law, serve a legitimate aim, be proportionate to the objective of the law, and have procedural safeguards against abuse. Vague grounds that trigger exemptions, absence of procedure in granting exemptions and the lack of independent oversight are major concerns.”
The report also mentioned that usage of terms like ‘national security’, ‘sovereignty’ and ‘territorial integrity’ are bound to be interpreted subjectively and could thus be misused to justify exemptions. A committee of experts under the chairmanship of Justice BN Srikrishna, in its report titled, ‘A Free and Fair Digital Economy, Protecting Privacy, Empowering Indians’, submitted to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in 2018, had noted the importance of ensuring, “the pillars of data protection are not shaken by a vague and nebulous national security exception.”
The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, was introduced in the Lok Sabha last year and talks about the formation of a data protection authority. Concerns were raised about the bill jeopardising citizens’ right to privacy in the face of “reasonable exceptions”, and hence, the bill was sent to a JPC for deliberation. The committee has been asked to submit its report by the second week of the monsoon session of Parliament, the dates for which are yet to be announced.