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Digital Personal Data Protection Bill tabled in Lok Sabha

Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw on Thursday introduced the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023 in Lok Sabha and clarified that it was not a money bill.

Vaishnaw responded to opposition leaders opposing the Bill being introduced as a money bill.

“I would like put forward before the House that it is a general bill and not a money bill. There will be ample discussions. Whatever may be the points — Puttaswamy; or related to compensation; the allegations levelled — all aspects…Mr Chairman, the government is ready to debate on all these aspects in detail. I would request your to grant permission to introduce it,” Vaishnaw said in the Lok Sabha.

The clarification came after Congress politician and former Union minister Manish Tewari had expressed his disapproval of the Bill being introduced as a money bill. He took to X in the morning to express his disapproval.

Tewari opposed the introduction of the Bill in the Lok Sabha, saying it was first before a parliamentary board, then reviewed and finally withdrawn and was now being introduced as a finance bill.

“Secondly, it is a Bill that needs serious reconsideration by the JPC (joint parliamentary committee) for the simple reason that it is in total contradiction of the right to privacy judgment. The Bill cleaves the entire digital universe into two parts — with full force it will apply to all NGOs and the entire government universe is going to be exempted from it. Puttaswamy stands assaulted and therefore I oppose,” he said.

Other leaders also opposed the introduction of the Bill.

All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen President and Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi said it was a “right to privacy violation” and added that the Right to Information (RTI) amendment affects freedom of speech and religion under Article 19.

“Thirdly, it empowers the government to access peoples’ private data, which is likely to create a surveillance state. Fourth, it is anti-women because only one in three women have ever used internet. In the Bill, it says data protection board will be digital in taking grievances. I want a division on the introduction of the Bill,” said Owaisi.

Similarly, MP Supriya Sule pointed out there was “excessive centralisation” of all the data, as it gave total control to the government.

“It’s a complete insult and hurting the spirit of federal structure of India. The RTI Act will be diluted. Government of India will be completely protected, others would be exposed,” she said.

She added that though the Bill had a penalty clause, there was no compensation clause for victims.

“The right to privacy is completely evaded. Anybody can have our data, there will be no privacy thus I request the minister to reconsider the Bill.”

Former Chairman of the parliamentary standing committee Shashi Tharoor revealed that the Bill that had been “repeatedly modified” by the government and had been “brought in its third iteration” to the House.

“I will urge that the Bill be sent to the standing committee for proper examination as a new Bill; because the three different versions do not match and they have been done without consultation with the committee that has mandated it,” he said.

Comparison with 2022 draft Bill
The new version of the previous draft Bill empowers the Central government or any of its officers, on the advice of the Data Protection Board, to block any platform “after giving an opportunity of being heard to the “data fiduciary” .

A data fiduciary is any person “who alone or in conjunction with other persons determines the purpose and means of processing of personal data”.

Section 37(1) of the new Bill deals with the power of the Central government to impose penalties and call for blocking of platforms. It may do so on the advice of the Data Protection Board, which is appointed by the Centre.

The Data Protection Board will comprise a Chairperson and other members possessing “special knowledge” or “practical experience” in various fields including data governance, administration or implementation of laws related to social or consumer protection, dispute resolution, information and communication technology, digital economy and law.

The Central government seems to have also insulated itself from any legal proceeding. Section 35 says that no suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against the Central government or the Data Protection Board for anything done in good faith under the provisions of the Bill.

The previous iteration of this Section did not include protection to the Central government.

Section 39 says that no civil court shall have the jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceeding in respect of any matter for which the Board is empowered under the provisions of this Act. Further, no injunction shall be granted by any court or other authority against actions of the Board.

The maximum penalty of ₹500 crore that was proposed in the previous version of the Bill has been reduced to ₹250 crore in case of a personal data breach by the data fiduciary.

For report, https://www.communicationstoday.co.in/digital-personal-data-protection-bill-2023/

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