Data Protection Bill not likely to be passed before 2019 Lok Sabha elections

Updated on Sep 16, 2018 08:09 AM IST

The proposed bill makes individual consent the centrepiece of data sharing, awards rights to users, imposes obligations on “data fiduciaries”.

The electronics and information technology ministry empanelled a group of nine experts in July 2017 to draft India’s first ever personal data privacy law.(Pradeep Gaur/ Mint File Photo)
The electronics and information technology ministry empanelled a group of nine experts in July 2017 to draft India’s first ever personal data privacy law.(Pradeep Gaur/ Mint File Photo)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByNakul Sridhar

The draft Data Protection Bill submitted by the justice BN Srikrishna committee will be tabled in Parliament, but will not be passed before the 2019 general elections, a senior official familiar with the matter said.

The electronics and information technology ministry empanelled a group of nine experts in July 2017 to draft India’s first ever personal data privacy law. The panel, led by retired Supreme Court judge BN Srikrishna, submitted its recommendations along with a larger report to the IT ministry in July. The Bill, when enacted, would dictate how the government and businesses can collect, process and use personal data of individuals.

The proposed bill makes individual consent the centrepiece of data sharing, awards rights to users, imposes obligations on “data fiduciaries”— all those entities, including the State, which determine purpose and means of data processing.

Last week, the ministry extended the date for receiving public opinion on the draft Bill. The senior official cited above said on condition of anonymity that industry associations requested more time to understand the implications of the draft before submitting feedback to the ministry. The public can send opinions and suggestions to the ministry on its website until September 30, up from the earlier deadline of September 10.

Other senior officials in the ministry with direct knowledge of the matter said that despite the nearly three-week extension, they would try and make the draft Bill ready for tabling in the winter session of Parliament. When the Bill was submitted to IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in late July, he said the ministry would hold consultation with the general public and industry associations. After the consultations, he said, it would be introduced in Parliament and sent to a parliamentary standing committee for scrutiny.

Some experts believe a data protection law is not exactly the need of the hour. “The campaign over WhatsApp or other social media will continue unhindered despite a personal data protection law simply because most of these are organized through private chat groups,” Ananth Padmanbhan, fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said. “Profiling for purposes of elections has been going on for years, and it is unlikely a new law would stop political parties from carrying on with the same.”

Others say there is need to have the law in place before the general elections next year. “It’s crucial to have both improved checks on surveillance and data protection measures on government and the private sector before the elections. And we have seen an explosion of attempts to use data to influence, target people for elections,” said Raman Chima, a lawyer and policy director at Access Now, a digital rights advocacy group, and volunteer with saveourprivacy.in. “Cambridge Analytica revealed the scale of problems.”

Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm, delivered data-intensive marketing and political campaigning strategies for electronic media. The firm was accused by whistle-blower Christopher Wylie in March this year of collecting unauthorized personal data of more than 87 million Facebook users. Facebook later said at least half a million Indians’ profiles could have been compromised in the data grab.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) began a preliminary enquiry against Cambridge Analytica in August for its role in illegally obtaining Indians’ data. “It is suspected that Cambridge Analytica may have been involved in illegally obtaining data of Indians which could be misused,” Prasad said in parliament in July.

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