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Home / India News / Committed to protecting citizens’ right to privacy, reports of surveillance misleading, says govt

Committed to protecting citizens’ right to privacy, reports of surveillance misleading, says govt

The government is formulating a personal data protection bill, which will be the foundation for the country’s legal safeguards for individual privacy.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2019 16:40 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
File Photo: A man poses with a smartphone in front of displayed WhatsApp logo in this illustration.
File Photo: A man poses with a smartphone in front of displayed WhatsApp logo in this illustration.(REUTERS)
         

The government is committed to protecting the fundamental right of its citizens to privacy and reports of surveillance of citizens are completely misleading, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told Rajya Sabha on Thursday.

Replying to a query on safety of citizen’s data during Question Hour, the Electronics and IT minister said the government operates strictly according to provisions of law and laid down protocol.

“There are adequate safeguards to ensure that no innocent citizen is harassed or his or her privacy breached. The government is committed to protecting the fundamental rights of citizens, including the right to privacy,” he said.

Prasad said that media reports about UK-based research firm Comparitech highlighting that India ranks behind only Russia and China when it comes to surveillance of citizens appear to be “flimsy”.

“From the media reports, the basis on which such a conclusion is drawn, appears flimsy and questionable. Absence of data protection bill and a data protection authority as regulator has been cited but there are suitable provisions under the IT Act and work is in progress to bring in a law for data protection,” he said.

He also termed reports that say Aadhaar database includes information such as purchases, bank accounts, insurance as “baseless assumptions”. “For the security of Aadhaar data centres, UIDAI has a well-designed, multi-layer robust security system in place and it is being constantly upgraded to maintain the highest level of data security and integrity,” the Union minister said.

Prasad said the government’s request to WhatsApp regarding traceability without compromising on encryption has been wrongly projected as a possible privacy intrusion.

“These attempts to malign the government of India for reportedly monitoring the citizens are completely misleading,” he said.

the Union minister’s statement comes a day after the Union Cabinet approved the country’s first proposed law to regulate how individuals and organisations handle digital data of Indian citizens. The draft law includes new provisions that, while diluting some of the contentious “localisation” requirements, could now require companies to carry out the real-name verification of users.

The Personal Data Protection Bill, once approved by Parliament, will be the foundation for the country’s legal safeguards for individual privacy, which was held by the Supreme Court as a fundamental right in a ruling in 2017.

Officials in the Union Electronics and Communications Ministry said the new bill has changes in three key areas from a draft prepared in 2018: Data storage rules, user verification process, and the sharing of non-personal or anonymised personal data. “Information that is neither classified as critical nor as sensitive will not need to be storied in India if the fiduciary obtains the consent of the user to send such data abroad,” a senior official said, asking not to be named. A fiduciary is any individual or organisation, whether private or government, that handles data.

This is a climbdown from the 2018 data protection bill, which was based on the version prepared by a committee of experts headed by retired justice BN Srikrishna on July 27, 2018. The first bill suggested all personal data must have a copy on Indian soil, a requirement meant to give India legal jurisdiction of information connected to its citizens.

Companies oppose localisation of data on servers in India, saying it would add to operational costs, while activists say it could expose such data to surveillance operations that function under little oversight.

Sensitive data includes passwords, financial records, health data and identifiers of gender, caste and religion. Critical data has not been defined yet, and the officials indicated that these will need to be processed as well as stored on servers located within India.