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House panel’s report seeks speedy adoption of data bill

BySaptarshi Das, New Delhi
Aug 02, 2023 03:45 AM IST

The standing committee report suggests some changes have been made since the draft was released for public feedback last year.

The parliamentary committee on communications and information technology tabled a report on the Digital Personal Data Protection (DPDP) Bill, 2023, in Parliament on Monday, advocating its immediate enactment into law. It included a dissent note by opposition members, who objected to the report being written without access to the draft legislation.

The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023, is part of the list of business for introduction in the ongoing monsoon session, which will conclude on August 11. (Representational image)
The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023, is part of the list of business for introduction in the ongoing monsoon session, which will conclude on August 11. (Representational image)

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“The Committee, in no uncertain words, stresses the urgent necessity for the early enactment of a robust and all encompassing legislation that effectively safeguards citizens’ data and privacy,” the 40-page report said. “As the digital landscape continues to evolve rapidly, such legislation would serve as a crucial protective measure, ensuring the secure and responsible handling of personal information while instilling public confidence in the digital ecosystem.”

The standing committee report suggests some changes have been made since the draft was released for public feedback last year. These include proposals to allow startups to be notified by the government as exempted from the provisions of the law, and that decisions of the data protection board, which would act as a regulator, can be challenged at the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) court, and not at the high court level as previously proposed.

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The report goes on to suggest that cross-border data flows would be proposed to be allowed via a blacklisting model, whereby the government would notify countries where data cannot be transferred. This is different from the previous proposal of having trusted countries. In the earlier draft, the government would have had to notify countries where data could be transferred to.

The report also discussed the “Significance of Consent in the Draft Bill,” “Certain Exemptions (Legitimate Uses) to Maintain Public Order,” “Accountability and Deterrence Mechanism under the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill” and “Flexibility and Evolvability of the Provisions of the Draft Bill”.

Key opposition members have been loggerheads with the government ever since the parliamentary panel had on July 27 adopted this report, titled ”Citizen’s data security and privacy”, which also made new recommendations to the DPDP Bill just one day after it was shared with the opposition members in the committee.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader John Brittas had written to the House chairman on Friday, objecting to the way the report was prepared by the committee by bypassing procedure, which required a Bill to be first introduced in either House of Parliament before it can be referred to a standing committee.

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Brittas also questioned why under the new report, startups had been exempted from the provisions of the proposed law and asked why a decision of the data protection board was now proposed to be challenged at a tribunal and not in high courts.

“The cross-border data flows are now proposed to be allowed via a blacklisting model, whereby the government will notify countries where data cannot be transferred. This is different from the previous proposal of having trusted countries. Is this true? Can you tell us why this change is proposed? Decisions of the data protection board are now proposed to be challenged at the TDSAT, as opposed to the high court. Is this true? Why was this change considered?” Brittas asked.

Reacting to the issues raised by Brittas, minister of state for electronics and information technology, Rajeev Chandrashekhar, in a Tweet claimed that whatever the former was saying was misinformation and completely wrong, as the DPDP Bill has not been introduced in Parliament and hence, the question of considering it in a committee doesn’t arise.

“This is misinformation and completely wrong.No bill including the proposed DPDP (Digital Personal Data Protection Bill) can be referred to any committee unless it is done so by Parliament. In turn, the bill can be only referred to committee AFTER the Cabinet-approved bill is introduced in Parliament. #DPDP has not been introduced into Parliament AND so the question of considering it in committee doesn’t arise,” he tweeted.

“The report revolves around a DDPB that has been approved by the Cabinet but not introduced in the House or referred to the Committee. Which is why oppn members in the Committee staged a walkout over that report prepared before seeing the final Bill, which will be tabled today. I agree. Ruling party members in the Committee flouted norms and are in the wrong,” Brittas’s retorted.

When Brittas tried to raise it in Parliament by issuing a point of order, Rajya Sabha chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar turned it down and said that the CPI(M) MPs point was “devoid of any merit.”

“Report of a committee if it was put before this House, can it be stopped? It is no point of order and it is the right of the committee to place a report. The rest will follow in accordance with rules,” vice-president Dhankhar said.

“The report which has been presented on the Digital Data Protection Bill which has been approved by the Cabinet but not introduced in the House nor referred to the standing committee. The Standing Committee has overstepped and it is beyond their jurisdiction breaching and it is breaching your authority and the authority of this house,” Brittas had told the chair while raising the point of order, which was later rejected.

The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023, is part of the list of business for introduction in the ongoing monsoon session, which will conclude on August 11.

Opposition members have also pointed out that like its previous iterations, the current version of the draft legislation, too, makes exceptions for government entities to process personal data of individuals in certain instances and includes a provision for taking “deemed consent” from the person to whom the data is related for providing subsidies.

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