Personal data protection bill: Investigating agencies will remain outside the purview of the law, Parliamentary committee’s report accepted amid protests

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Table of Contents

Highlights

  • After a long brainstorming, the report related to the Personal Data Protection Bill has been accepted.
  • The government has the right to keep its investigative agencies out of the purview of the law.
  • Many opposition parties including Congress opposed it.

New Delhi
The report of the Joint Committee of Parliament on the Personal Data Protection Bill was accepted on Monday after a long discussion that lasted for nearly two years. In this, the provision has been retained, which empowers the government to exempt its investigative agencies from the purview of this proposed law. Several opposition leaders, including senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, also gave a note of dissent on their behalf on this provision and some other points.

This bill was brought in 2019 for the purpose of protecting the personal data of the people and establishing the Data Protection Authority. After this the bill was sent to this committee for scrutiny and necessary suggestions.

Congress, TMC, BJD in protest
Four Congress MPs, two from the Trinamool Congress and one from the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) expressed their dissent over some of the recommendations of the committee. According to the Personal Data Protection Bill, the central government can exempt its agencies from the provisions of this proposed law to protect the national interest, security of the state, public order and the sovereignty and integrity of the country.

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Opposition to giving exemption to agencies
The opposition members mainly protested that the central government is being given immense power to exempt its agencies from the purview of the law. Some opposition members had suggested that the government should seek parliamentary approval to exempt its agencies so that there could be wider accountability, however this suggestion was not accepted.

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The bill is believed to be a new source of stalemate between the government and the opposition during the winter session of Parliament beginning on November 29. According to sources, a total of 93 recommendations have been made by the Joint Committee of Parliament on this bill and an attempt has been made to strike a balance between the functioning of the government and the protection of the privacy of the people.

Also understand the reasoning of the committee
The head of the committee, PP Choudhary, said that the government and its agencies have been exempted from going ahead with the process of data only if it is used for the benefit of the people. He also said that no permission would be required on matters related to national security.

He said, “This report has come after extensive consultations with the members and other concerned parties. I would like to thank all the members for their cooperation. This proposed law will have a global impact and will also set international standards for data protection.

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Jairam Ramesh’s note of dissent
Congress chief whip in Rajya Sabha Jairam Ramesh said he had to give this detailed note of dissent as his suggestions were not accepted and he could not persuade the members of the committee. Derek O’Brien and Mahua Moitra of the Trinamool Congress also gave notes of dissent. Other Congress members Manish Tewari, Gaurav Gogoi and Vivek Tankha and BJD MP Amar Patnaik also gave a note of dissent.

The committee’s report was delayed because its former chairman Meenakshi Lekhi was included in the Union Council of Ministers a few months back. After this, Bharatiya Janata Party MP PP Choudhary was appointed its president. Former Union Minister Ramesh appreciated the work of the committee headed by Choudhary in the last four months.

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Trinamool Congress members who were part of the committee also submitted a note of dissent and said that the bill is harmful in nature. He also questioned the functioning of the committee. According to sources, O’Brien and Mahua alleged in the note of dissent that the committee had shied away from its responsibility and the parties concerned were not given sufficient time and opportunity for deliberation.

He also said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, there were several meetings of the committee, in which it was very difficult for many members to attend due to being outside Delhi. According to sources, these MPs opposed the bill saying that it did not take proper measures to ensure the protection of the right to privacy.

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In the note of dissent, Congress chief whip in Rajya Sabha Ramesh also suggested that the most important section 35 and section 12 of the bill be amended. He said that Section 35 gives immense powers to the central government to keep any government agency out of the purview of this proposed law.

Ramesh said the committee’s report has suggested two years for private sector companies to come under the new data protection regime, while it has not been done for governments or their agencies.

Congress MP Manish Tewari thanked its chief Chaudhary for the functioning of the committee and said that he disagrees with the basic nature of the proposed law and has submitted a detailed note of dissent.

He also claimed that the proposed Act would not stand the test of law. Congress Deputy Leader in Lok Sabha Gaurav Gogoi on the bill said the concerns arising out of espionage and attempts to set up state-of-the-art infrastructure related to it have not been fully addressed.

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