Withdrawing of Personal Data Protection Bill


Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, was brought in with noble intentions. The ideas was to provide for protection of the privacy of individuals relating to their personal data, specify the flow and usage of personal data, create a relationship of trust between persons and entities processing the personal data, protect the rights of individuals whose personal data are processed, and create a framework for organisational and technical measures in processing of data. It also aimed to lay down norms for social media intermediary, cross-border transfer, accountability of entities processing personal data, remedies for unauthorised and harmful processing, and to establish a Data Protection Authority of India. The Centre has rightly withdrawn the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, after thorough deliberations by the Joint Committee of Parliament.
As many as 81 amendments were proposed, while a dozen recommendations were made for a comprehensive legal framework on the digital ecosystem. After considering the JCP report, the Government said that it is working on a comprehensive legal framework. So, it decided to come up with a new legislation that is in accordance with the comprehensive legal framework. The rescinded Bill had upset both big tech as well as civil society groups. Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc., were uncomfortable with the provisions of the Bill, leading to some unpleasantness between them and the Government. The 2019 Bill was also denounced on grounds of violation of individual liberty and privacy. In fact, Justice BN Srikrishna (Retd), who headed the committee that prepared the draft of the Bill, was extremely critical of the version that was tabled in Parliament.
How such a piece of legislation ended up becoming, in the words of its chief draftsman, Orwellian may be of interest of some future historian or jurisprudence expert. It is, however, comforting to know that the Government has taken the criticism of the Bill in earnest; instead of being rigid and self-righteous, it has withdrawn the Bill altogether. Continuing in the same spirit, the government would be well-advised to prepare the personal data protection law in consultation with not just the Opposition parties but also internet freedom groups, civil liberty activists, opinion makers, big tech companies, etc. Wider consultations will make the law robust without being harsh.

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