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JPC on Data Protection Bill tables report in Parliament after 2 years of deliberations

Multiple dissent notes expected following the report that’s been stalled by leadership changes and lack of consensus.

MediaNama has covered all important aspects of the Data Protection Bill 2021:
Powers of the Government | Data Protection Authority | Data Localization | Data Breaches | Data Fiduciaries | Data Protection Officers | Children’s Data | Rights of Individuals | Non-Personal Data

The report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill was tabled in Rajya Sabha on December 16. This means that the Bill and the committee’s report may soon be taken up for debate, before Members of Parliament vote on what could be India’s first data protection law.

The Bill is focused on the protection of personal and non-personal data of individuals and establishes a Data Protection Authority. It was referred to the Joint Committee for further scrutiny on the demand of opposition members. We will be updating this report with the key highlights of the latest iteration of the bill.

With your (Rajya Sabha chairperson Venkaiah Naidu) permission, I lay on the table of the house a copy of each in English and Hindi of the report of the JPC of Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019. This report shows that if the chairman is cooperative, the government is accommodative, the opposition is responsive — Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh

What’s next? After a report of a joint committee has been presented to the Parliament, the member-in-charge of the Bill will move the motion for its consideration, according to the Lok Sabha website.

Since the landmark Puttaswamy judgement in 2017, the government has been under an obligation to pass legislation to protect Indians’ personal data. Various aspects of the bill such as compliance requirements of data fiduciaries, rights of individuals, and data localisation norms, have been closely watched by stakeholders in the private and public sectors.

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JPC is not unanimous in its recommendations

On the day that the JPC announced the adoption of the committee report, committee member Jairam Ramesh filed a detailed dissent note criticising the wide range of exemptions given to the Union government from the provisions of the Bill, according to a tweet he posted. Congress leader Manish Tewari also filed a similar dissent note.

Ramesh had issues with two clauses of the draft PDP Bill —

  • Section 35 of the PDP Bill: Ramesh said that he had suggested amendments to Section 35 of the PDP Bill, the section that deals with exemption from the law for government agencies.
  • Section 12(a)(i) of the PDP Bill: Ramesh suggested changes to Section 12(a)(i) which creates certain exceptions for governments and government agencies from the provisions of consent.

What did the JPC discuss for two years?

According to a report by the Hindustan Times, over 100 drafting changes were proposed to the bill with clause-by-clause discussions and comparisons. Some of the significant ones among them are:

Non-personal data protection: Changing the name of the draft Personal Data Protection Bill to the ‘Data Protection Bill’ as it will regulate non-personal data, the Hindustan Times reported .

Exemptions to government agencies: There was a lack of unanimity and heated discussions on exemptions granted to government agencies under the bill, the report said.

Intermediary liability for social media companies: Treating social media networks like publishers and removing their safe harbour protection for  “selecting, modifying, editing, blocking, muting, amplifying content or removing users from its platform,” was being considered by the committee, as per an HT report.

Timeline of the bill’s progress

  • July 2018: The PDP Bill is first drafted by an expert committee headed by Justice BN Srikrishna.
  • October 2018: Subsequently, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology says that it will be drafting the bill.
  • December 2019: The bill is referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee and BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi is appointed chairperson.
  • September 2020: The committee requests and obtains an extension of time for the presentation of their report.
  • December 2020: The committee undertakes a clause-by-clause review of the bill.
  • March 2021:  Once again, the committee requests and obtains an extension of time for the presentation of their report.
  • July 2021: The Lok Sabha Speaker rules out any further extension for submission of the report.
  • July 2021: PP Chaudhary is appointed as the new chairperson of the JPC after Meenakshi Lekhi gets elevated to a minister in the Union Cabinet.
  • July 2021: Committee is granted extension to present report in Winter Session.
  • November 2021: Committee holds meeting to discuss consideration and adoption of its draft report.
  • December 2021: Report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee is tabled in the Parliament.

Update, December 16, 12.54 pm: Included Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh’s comments when he tabled the report of the JPC in the Parliament

Update, December 16, 3.47 pm: Inserted a hyperlink to the report of the JPC on PDP Bill 2019 in the first paragraph of the story

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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