National security comes first, says review panel chief on Data Protection Bill

Individual privacy cannot supersede national security, sovereignty and integrity, PP Chaudhary, the head of the joint parliamentary committee that reviewed the proposed Data Protection Bill, has said
A representational image. (Shutterstock/File)
A representational image. (Shutterstock/File)
Published on Nov 25, 2021 02:35 PM IST
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ByDeeksha Bhardwaj

Individual privacy cannot supersede national security, sovereignty and integrity, PP Chaudhary, the head of the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) that reviewed the proposed Data Protection Bill, has said days after the panel’s opposition party members argued that the new bill gives the government “unbridled power”.

At least five penal members have submitted their dissent notes over the panel’s report.

The JPC finalised the report on Monday and has suggested stricter compliance requirements for companies. It has added or tweaked clauses that provide for lighter obligations on government agencies and recommended a greater say for the state in the legal mechanism that will be set up to safeguard personal and non-personal data.

“Sufficient safeguards have been provided in the bill to ensure that data is only accessed through a fair and proportionate procedure,” Chaudhary said. He added the only exemptions are the ones already provided for in the Constitution while referring to the contentious Clause 35 of the bill.

Clause 35 empowers the government to provide exemptions to its agencies from the provisions of the bill.

The panel has recommended that the procedure by which this exemption is claimed be “just, fair, reasonable and proportionate”.

Also Read: MPs file dissent notes citing ‘reservations’ over Data Protection Bill report

The clause allows the government to claim the exemption if it is satisfied that it is “necessary or expedient” to do so in the interest of purposes such as national security – a test that still exists in that form. The tests for just, fair and proportionate have been explained further as part of the procedure.

Chaudhary said the procedures built into the bill provide for a framework even more detailed than the Constitution. “We have removed the provisions of public order and morality from the clause. But one must understand that national security cannot be compromised in lieu of individual privacy,” he said. “When the central government is satisfied that is necessary and expedient, it may grant exemptions, say to the army or to Intelligence Agencies, but under only the conditions provided for.”

Chaudhary referred to Clause 12, which empowers the government to access data without consent.

He added the intent of the bill is clear and that such action should only be taken in exceptional cases when it is required to provide benefits and services. “Is the government using data to provide ration through the public distribution system or provide funds under the MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) not beneficial to people?” he asked. “We need to understand the limitation of people’s ability to provide consent. How can we obtain consent from the poor when the data is being processed in a centralised form?”

Chaudhary said consent was paramount, but the aim was to prevent its misuse and not hinder its use for beneficial schemes. “If a service is being provided, then consent is not necessarily required.”

The panel’s report will be tabled in Parliament during the Winter Session beginning November 29 for discussion, following which the government will re-introduce the bill, with amendments if needed as the recommendations are not binding.

Chaudhary attacked the opposition parties for opposing the bill and said they have a “dissent ideology”. “We have to strike a fine balance,” he said. “The Parliament will enact the law, so it can look into it whenever it wants but to have it evaluate it on a day-to-day basis is untenable. The IT (information technology) parliamentary committee can also take it up and provide further recommendations.”

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Wednesday, December 01, 2021