A Scary ‘Data Protection’ Bill Was Tabled In Lok Sabha While India Protested Against CAA

By Yameena Zehra:

The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was passed in the Parliament on December 9, 2019, and was officially signed by the President on December 12, 2019, making it the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The entire country has been on fire since then. The implementation of the National Registry of Citizenship (NRC) along with the introduction of CAA is a deadly combination, subtly affecting the Muslim minority, and is a direct attack on the secular nature of our country.

Understanding how grave a situation it is, the students of the country have come together to raise their voice against this “unconstitutional bill” and protests have been taking place all over. Not only this, these protests have picked up momentum and the CAA has made international news now.

Everybody has been talking about the same, and now, the government has been trying to suppress the situation by imposing an internet shutdown, putting Article 144 in place, police brutality, and more.

While the entire nation was outraged over such a bill, another controversial bill, the Data Protection Bill, was tabled in the parliament recently.

Amidst the ongoing chaos, it seems like people are not paying heed to the newly introduced bill.

This bill is not like any ordinary bill and will affect every Indian citizen, as it has been provided with sections that sanction the right to breach an individual’s privacy.

All About The Bill

Ravi Shankar Prasad in Parliament.

The Data Protection Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Electronics and Information Technology, on December 11, 2019.

The objective of the bill is to “provide for the protection of personal data of individuals, and establishes a Data Protection Authority for the same.”

The clauses of the bill are applicable in terms of allowing and processing of personal data by the –

(i) Government,

(ii) Companies incorporated in India

(iii) Foreign companies dealing with personal data of individuals in India.

Further, it categorises an individual’s data into two types:

  • Personal Data– Characteristics, traits or attributes of identity; that can help in the identification of a person
  • Sensitive Personal Data– Financial data, biometric data, caste, religious or political beliefs

Under this bill, the government gets full control of our data and it will set up a ‘data fiduciary’ for the collection and limitation of data.

According to PRS Legislative Research, “the bill will set up a data protection authority that can take steps to protect the interests of individuals, prevent misuse of personal data, and ensure compliance with the Bill.”

In layman terms, the bill has officially mentioned clauses that assure data security to an individual, but in a hypothetical way, as the bill offers to give full control over data to the government in case it is “satisfied that it is necessary or expedient” for purposes such as “preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offense.”

In practicality, your government will keep a check on all your activities all the time.

Why Is It Shady?

The bill is super complex as it not only expands the regulatory power of the state, but also presents our data at their discretion.

It comes with the threat of invading an individual’s personal life and manipulating the same in name of investigation and regulation purposes.

Not only this, the bill was to be first presented before the Parliament’s Standing Committee headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, as per the normal procedure followed for an IT bill. But, this bill was by-passed by the Standing Committee, and a new Joint Parliamentary Committee was formed which will entertain the hearings on the bill separately. Such a move is not only alarming, but also questions the transparency of the bill and the government’s intention behind the same.

The fact that the bill has been passed in a ‘secretive’ way without any public consultation is itself speaking of its controversial nature.

Although the Supreme Court has laid down certain guidelines over an individual’s privacy, but, considering the covetous proceedings, it is doubtful if the bill will stick to the privacy judgment laid by the Supreme Court.

Possibilities

The bill is not yet law, but is still a worrisome issue as it doesn’t seem to be a good move in terms of both, the citizens’ and nation’s interest.

Such an act will open access to a humongous amount of data, and storing the same is an extremely expensive venture which will be a burden on the country’s finances. Moreover, the bigger threat of misuse lingers perpetually. And, what about personal vendetta? The government is (in)famous for being intolerant and carrying out witch-hunts against people or voices of dissent. Will this (bill) not be misused to suppress anything and everything that doesn’t go in their favour?

Representational image.

The complexity of the bill leaves the ordinary people in a pool of sheer confusion. It is also alarming as it raises bigger questions like:

  • Does an individual get the ownership and exclusiveness of their data under this bill or will all of it be breached?
  • Does the bill provide assurance that it won’t use our data for someone’s interest and political manipulation?
  • Is it assured that the citizens won’t be snooped on, stalked, or profiled for the government’s benefit?

Justifying the same, the government talks about cheap data access and intents it to use to increase economic development.

Let’s see if the bill succeeds in maintaining the integrity of the government by keeping a balance between private-profit and inadvertent surveillance.

A version of this post was first published here.

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