The Data Protection Bill And User Rights

General Studies Contemporary Issues 03: The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December, 2019. The bill promises to return power and control to people in our digital society. This bill has an important bearing on fundamental rights and constitutional principles.

Need for the Bill

  • National security narrative and issue related to recent technologies are inextricably interlinked.
  • Present narrative of national security has a scant regard for privacy or data protection. It gives national security primacy over a person’s privacy.
  • Both large online platforms and national security machinery need large volume of data. Social media platform, technology companies gather personal data. Even the government, in the name of national security interest, gather data through Aadhaar and other means.
  • The government is seeking to not only access data but also collect it and then exploit it.
  • The ambitious data collection exercise of the Government of India is part of the Digital India Programme.
  • The ambitious Digital India Programme aims to transform ordinary people’s life through the use of information technology.
  • All citizen-governments interactions are data driven.
  • Our personal data is being viewed by the Government as a national strategic asset which it can use against our wish, even without bothering to inform us.

The Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB) 2019

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The Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB) 2019. The Bill seeks to provide for protection of personal data of individuals, and establishes a Data Protection Authority for the same. 

  • It is a comprehensive framework.
  • It covers all aspects to data protection.

Data Protection Authority

The Bill sets up a Data Protection Authority which may: (i) take steps to protect interests of individuals, (ii) prevent misuse of personal data, and (iii) ensure compliance with the Bill. It will consist of a chairperson and six members, with at least 10 years’ expertise in the field of data protection and information technology.  Orders of the Authority can be appealed to an Appellate Tribunal.  Appeals from the Tribunal will go to the Supreme Court.

Most of the recommendations by the Justice B N Srikrishna committee has been retained by this bill. However, it has also made certain significant changes.

The important feature of this bill is that it calls for explicit consent for data gathering exercise. This consent should be obtained only for a particular purpose.

It lays down the rights of the data principal, accountabilities and liabilities data fiduciary, data processors and collectors.

PDPB categorizes personal data into three broad categories: personal, sensitive and critical. It also introduces the concept of non-personal, de-identified and anonymized data.

The bill states sensitive personal data will not be stored outside of India.

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It gives more importance to interests of corporates and the states.

By placing competing interests on the same footing, the bill violates the basic principle of the fundamental right to privacy.

The bill does not fulfill the promises made by the Aadhaar judgment of the Supreme Court. Instead of respecting privacy of individuals, it serves a political economy.

Committee on Personal Data

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Economic Survey of 2019 devotes an entire chapter on the fiscal approach towards personal data (Chapter 4). The chapter says: “In thinking about data as a public good, care must also be taken to not impose the elite’s preference of privacy on the poor, who care for a better quality of living the most.”

  • Non-personal data pertains to community data, anonymised data, and ecommerce data.
  • These non-personal data are held by companies such as Uber, Google and Amazon.
  • Unlike personal data, non-personal data remain unregulated.
  • Often referred to as NPD, is not protected by privacy laws across the world.
  • NPD can be collected for any purpose. Information related to climate change can be gatherd by a weather app. Such data qualify as NPD.

The government formed a panel led by Infosys cofounder S (Kris) Gopalakrishnan in September 2019 to recommend how non-personal data should be governed.

While forming the Gopalakrishnan committee for NPD, India’s ministry of electronics and information technology, or MeitY, in September 2019 mentions data, anonymised data, e-commerce data, and AI training data as non-personal data.

Now the questions is: will free data access generate economic value? Kris Gopalakrishnan Committee is currently examining the issue rlated to it.

There has been demand for governing NPD because:

  • NPD carries economic value. Companies want to profit from it.
  • NPD is a collective resource whose value should be unlocked for better governance.

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