MPs file dissent notes citing ‘reservations’ over Data Protection Bill report
Jairam Ramesh and Gaurav Gogoi filed dissent notes with Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla as a panel was due to adopt the final version of a report ahead of Parliament’s winter session, sources said
Two Opposition Congress members of a parliamentary committee reviewing the Data Protection Bill have filed dissent notes citing a lack of oversight, failure to quantify penalties, absence of state-level data protection authorities (DPAs), and “unbridled” exemptions for the government as “reservations” to the panel’s final report.
Jairam Ramesh and Gaurav Gogoi sent the dissent notes to the committee chairperson, PP Chaudhary, on Monday as the 30-member panel was due to adopt the final version of the report ahead of Parliament’s Winter Session beginning next week, people aware of the matter said.
The people added Manish Tewari of the Congress, the Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien and the Biju Janata Dal’s Amar Patnaik were likely to follow suit as the report is slated to be tabled during the session.
“Today (Monday), the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 will adopt its report. I’m compelled to submit a detailed dissent note. But that should not detract from the democratic manner in which the Committee has functioned. Now, for the debate in Parliament,” Ramesh tweeted hours before the panel’s meeting was set to begin.
Ramesh filed his note contesting the exemptions to the government under Section 35 of the bill. He has argued the section provides unbridled power to exempt any of the government agencies from the proposed law. Ramesh added that Section 12, which covers non-consensual processing of data by the government, should have been made “less sweeping”.
Gogoi cited a “lack of attention” paid to “harms arising from surveillance” and said a “modern surveillance framework” may be created. He also flagged concerns against Sections 35 and 12, along with a lack of “parliamentary oversight and engagement”. HT has seen a copy of Gogoi’s note. Gogoi noted the report has failed to “quantify penalties under the framework”.
The people said Patnaik is likely to object to a lack of inclusion of state-level DAPs in the bill. The governments of Karnataka and Maharashtra sought this during the meetings of their representatives with the committee. In an interview with HT in September, Patnaik argued that the lack of state DPAs would raise issues of federal override.
The panel has been looking into the draft law since 2019. It has been given several deadline extensions. The latest was due to changes in the panel after several of its members, including chairperson Meenakshi Lekhi, were inducted into the Union council of ministers in July.
As per its summary, the report has proposed to treat social media platforms as publishers, which will make them liable for content posted by users. It has recommended adding back the condition of “just, fair, reasonable and proportionate” to Section 35, which deals with exemptions the government can claim in accessing personal data, one of the persons cited above said.
This was of particular concern for the dissenters because the bill cleared by the government allowed it to claim an exemption as long as it felt it was “necessary or expedient” to do so in a particular set of circumstances such as those relating to national security. The “just, fair, reasonable and proportionate” portion was part of the first version of the bill, which was presented as per the recommendations of the Srikrishna Committee set up to recommend a legislative framework for data privacy in 2017.