Personal data protection bill referred to House committee
The bill will be sent to a joint select committee, Union electronics and information technology minister Prasad said in Lok Sabha after members pressed for greater scrutiny.Updated: Dec 12, 2019 05:58 IST
Members in Lok Sabha referred on Wednesday the personal data protection bill to a new a parliamentary committee, triggering strong protests from opposition MPs who said the move – steered by Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad – sets a dangerous precedent for parliamentary procedure.
The personal data protection bill -- covering how data of Indian users is stored, processed and transferred -- has been been criticised by experts, activists and lawmakers for being flawed and giving the government unbridled powers to circumvent obligations to respect privacy over grounds such as national security.
The bill will be sent to a joint select committee, Union electronics and information technology minister Prasad said in Lok Sabha after members pressed for greater scrutiny.
Opposition members said the bill should have gone to the existing standing committee on information technology. “The exercise in creating a joint select committee on a matter that rests squarely within the purview of an existing standing committee sets a dangerous precedent since it will allow the government to bypass the designated standing committee in every instance where a contentious bill is under consideration,” said Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who heads the existing panel, in a letter to speaker Om Birla.
The development comes less than a month after members from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attempted to stall on November 20 a discussion on the hacking of several Indians’ mobile phones through an Israeli company’s malware known as Pegasus.
The discussion was finally initiated after the chair decided on taking a poll, which ended in a deadlock before Tharoor’s deciding vote.
“The bill should have gone to the standing committee on IT but because it is headed by a Congress member, the government deliberately bypassed it and sent it to a joint select committee which will be chaired by a BJP member,” said Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who is a member of Rajya Sabha.
Legal and data privacy experts agreed the bill should have gone to the IT committee, though it was not illegal for it to be sent to a joint committee. “The bill needs very close scrutiny since it will change and determine data protection practices in India. Parliamentarians should take into account the views of every stakeholder, be it civil society or private companies,” said Vrinda Bhandari, Delhi-based lawyer specialising in digital rights issues.
The bill is based on a draft prepared by a committee of experts headed by justice BN Srikrishna, but carries several changes.
Bhandari added that the major concern was about section 35 of the bill, which gives government the ability to authorise any agency to circumvent privacy obligations in certain circumstances. “The necessary and proportional test has been done away with and section 35 is now very widely worded. This is a clear violation of the 9-judge privacy judgment in Puttaswamy,” she said.
The Puttaswamy case refers to the one in which the country’s top court held privacy as a fundamental right and said the government must take the least intrusive methods to achieve state goals.