‘Data Protection Bill Contains Problematic Formulations’: Former Judges, Bureaucrats Raise Concerns

Date:

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI – Former judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts, retired bureaucrats and prominent members of civil society have raised serious concerns over the draft of the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill (DPDPB), 2022, claiming that it contains “several problematic formulations within it that fail to protect the right to privacy of individuals and seriously undermine transparency and accountability”.

On Monday, several prominent people including Justice A.K. Patnaik (former judge, Supreme Court), A.P. Shah (former chief justice of Delhi High Court), Wajahat Habibullah(former Chief Information Commissioner, CIC), Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, noted social activist Medha Patkar, author Rajmohan Gandhi and others wrote to members of the parliament to raise the underlined concerns in the parliament’s ongoing session.

“The draft Bill which seeks to create a legal framework for the governing of personal digital data in India contains several problematic formulations within it that fail to protect the right to privacy of individuals and seriously undermine transparency and accountability through the proposed amendments to Section 8 (i) (j) of the Right to Information in Section 30 of the draft Bill,” reads the letter.

Explaining it further, the letter said section 8 (i)(j) of the RTI law contains within it privacy protections which have been settled positions of law while the proposed amendments render both the right to privacy and the RTI ineffective.

“Through this amendment, all personal information can be denied, even if disclosure of that information is relevant to the larger part of the public activity or in the public interest as provided for in Section 8 of the RTI Act. It unjustifiably removes the proviso to Section 8 which equates the citizens’ right to not be unjustifiably denied information with that of the elected representative and the legislature. This gives legal sanction to government entities, government functionaries and political executives to remain opaque in their functioning,” it noted.  

The eminent citizens also noted that the proposed Bill has the potential to place restrictions on public disclosures mandated by various welfare laws and schemes like the National Food Security, 2013, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2055, and the National Social Assistance Programme that are vital in maintaining transparency and disclosure have been hard won gains through decades of struggle and advocacy.

The signatories also pointed out at the ‘lack of independence of the Data Protection Board’ which is “extremely worrying”.

“It is imperative that such a board functions without the interference of the Central Government to enable the protection of the interest of citizens, specifically qua violations of the DPDPB carried out by the Central Government,” they said.    

According to them, Section 19 of the DPDPB, 2022 confers discretionary powers on the Central Government which is responsible for determining the selection and compositions, terms of conditions, and removal of the chairperson of the Data Protection Board.

On 18th November 2022, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) published the draft DPDPB, 2022 and explanatory note on their website along with a notice inviting feedback on the bill from the public within 30 days.

Full text of the letter:

Letter to Members of Parliament about the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill (DPDPB), 2022

 Eminent members of civil society expressed concern regarding the proposed Digital Personal Data Protection Bill (DPDPB), 2022 and the undemocratic manner in which public consultation on the bill has been invited,  in violation of procedural requirements as per the Pre-Legislative Consultative Policy (PLCP), 2014. 

On 18th November 2022, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) published the draft DPDPB, 2022 and explanatory note on their website along with a notice inviting feedback on the bill from the public within 30 days.

1. The draft DPDPB, 2022 has only been made available in the English language on the MeitY website. To ensure a transparent and robust consultative process as envisaged by the PLCP, 2014 – the time period for consultation must be extended and MeitY ought to release the draft Bill in multiple Indian languages, and facilitate physical platforms other than their website to provide wider publicity and engagement with the consultative process.

2. The process to submit comments is only through the MyGov website which is convoluted and difficult to navigate.

3. The notice issued by MeitY further states that the submissions invited from the public will not be disclosed in the public domain. The non-disclosure of comments received from the public and the status of its consideration by the Government goes against the basic tenets of a public consultation process.

4. The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill is a legislation that will impact all citizens of India, and any consultative process must remain transparent, open and inclusive and in line with the Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy, 2014.

Section 19 of the DPDPB, 2022 confers discretionary powers on the Central Government which is responsible for determining the selection and compositions, terms of conditions, and removal of the chairperson of the Data Protection Board. The lack of independence of the Data Protection Board is extremely worrying and it is imperative that such a board functions without the interference of the Central Government to enable the protection of the interest of citizens, specifically qua violations of the DPDPB carried out by the Central Government.

The draft Bill which seeks to create a legal framework for the governing of personal digital data in India contains several problematic formulations within it that fail to protect the right to privacy of individuals and seriously undermine transparency and accountability through the proposed amendments to Section 8 (i) (j) of the Right to Information in Section 30 of the draft Bill. Section 8 (i)(j) of the RTI law contains within it privacy protections which have been settled positions of law while the proposed amendments render both the right to privacy and the RTI ineffective. Through this amendment, all personal information can be denied, even if disclosure of that information is relevant to the larger part of the public activity or in the public interest as provided for in Section 8 of the RTI Act. It unjustifiably removes the proviso to Section 8 that equates the citizens’ right to not be unjustifiably denied information with that of the elected representative and the legislature This gives legal sanction for government entities, government functionaries and political executives to remain opaque in their functioning.

The proposed Bill has the potential to place restrictions on public disclosures mandated by various welfare laws and schemes like the National Food Security, 2013, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2055, and the National Social Assistance Programme that are vital to maintaining transparency and disclosure have been hard won gains through decades of struggle and advocacy.

In the context of the above, we make the following demands:

Transparent and Inclusive Public Consultation Process: 

1.1  The DPDPB has only been released on the MyGov website in English with the deadline for submissions being 17th December 2022. The time for the submission of feedback must be extended. The draft Bill must be released in multiple Indian languages and widely publicised through electronic and print media for wider engagement in the consultation process as it impacts the fundamental rights of all citizens. In a similar case regarding the consultation process of the draft EIA notifications 2020, the Delhi High Court directed the MoEF&CC to publish the draft for public consultation in all languages mentioned in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution, and take proactive steps for its dissemination.

1.2  As per the notice released by MeitY, the summary of feedback/submissions will not be made available in the public domain. The summary of feedback/comments received from the public/other stakeholders must be made available on the ministry’s website in line with the PCLP, 2014 to facilitate and support a robust, transparent, and democratic consultative process.

1.3  MeitY is currently accepting only chapter-wise feedback on the online portal. The process for submission of feedback must be made easy and accessible to all citizens, including provisions for offline submission. 

1.4  The DPDPB, 2022 is likely to have ramifications for many welfare legislations and policies. As per the procedure laid down in PCLP, 2014, the Ministry should organise open consultations with all stakeholders, including people’s movements and civil society organisations, and campaigns working on these issues.

 Objection to proposed amendments to the RTI Act: No amendments should be made to Section 8 (i) (j) of the RTI Act. The RTI law is a critical legislation that empowers ordinary citizens to demand information and maintain accountability and transparency in government functions. Any attempt to amend this critical section will lead to the dismantling of the RTI structure and a reversal of the transparency and accountability that it introduced in governance. The right to information and the right to privacy of all Indian citizens must be protected.

We seek your support and appeal to you and your party to raise these concerns in the ongoing winter session of parliament and outside of parliament. The draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022 poses a serious challenge to the processes of democratic engagement and threatens the very foundations of the transparency and accountability regime in the country.

Attached: Letter by National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information to Shri Rajeev Chandrashekar, Minister of State in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology regarding the lack of adherence to established principles of pre-legislative consultation for the proposed DPDPB, 2022.

Justice A.P. Shah (former judge, Supreme Court), Justice A.K. Patnaik (former judge, Supreme Court), Justice K. Chandru (former judge, Madras High Court), Wajahat Habibullah(former Chief Information Commissioner, CIC), Shailesh Gandhi (former Information Commissioner, CIC), Sridhar Acharyulu (former Information Commissioner, CIC), Aruna Roy, Abha Bhaiya, Alok Perti, IAS (Retd.), Amitabha Pande, IAS (Retd.), Annie Raja, Arundathi Duru, Ashish Ranjan, Aurobindo Behera, IAS (Retd.), Beena Pallical, Bezwada Wilson, Chandrashekar Balakrishnan, IAS (Retd.), Deb Mukharji, IFS (Retd.), Dinesh Abrol, Dunu Roy, F.T.R. Colaso, IPS (Retd.), G.K. Pillai, IAS (Retd.), Gauhar Raza, Geetha Thoopal, IRAS (Retd.), Gopalan Balagopal, IAS (Retd.), Gurjit Singh Cheema, IAS (Retd.), H.S. Gujral, IFoS (Retd.), Hindal Tyabji, IAS (Retd.), Jagdeep Chhokar, Jayant Prasad, IFS (Retd.), Jean Dreze, Kathyayini Chamaraj, Kavita Srivastava, M.G. Devasahayam, IAS (Retd.), Madhu Bhaduri, IFS (Retd.), Mallika Sarabai, Martin Macwan, Maxwell Pereira, IPS (Retd.), Medha Patkar, (Narmada Bachao Andola), Meena Gupta, IAS (Retd.), Meera Sangamitra, MG Devasahayam, N.C. Saxena, IAS (Retd.), N.K. Raghupathy, IAS (Retd.), Navrekha Sharma, IFS (Retd.), Nikhil Dey, P. Joy Oommen, IAS (Retd.), P.R. Dasgupta, IAS (Retd.), P.S.S. Thomas, IAS (Retd.), P Sainath, Pamela Philipose, Pankti Jog, Paul Diwakar, Pradeep K. Deb, IAS (Retd.), Pradip Pradhan, Prashant Bhushan, R. Chandramohan, IAS (Retd.), Rajmohan Gandhi, Ravi Vira Gupta, IAS (Retd.), Sandeep Pandey, Shabnam Hashmi, Shekhar Singh, Siraj Hussain, IAS (Retd.), Subodh Lal, IPoS (Resigned), Sundar Burra, IAS (Retd.), Suresh K. Goel, IFS (Retd.), Surjit K. Das, IAS (Retd.), TM Krishna, V.P. Raja, IAS (Retd.),Vipul Mudgal and, Vrinda Grover

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