However, facing opposition on the bill, government decided to send it to the joint select committee having members of both Houses of Parliament.
New Delhi: The government on Wednesday introduced the Personal Data Protection Bill in Lok Sabha that gives the right to government agencies to snoop on citizens in the name of national interest. However, facing opposition on the bill, government decided to send it to the joint select committee having members of both Houses of Parliament.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, while opposing the introduction of the bill said that the right to privacy of citizens was being compromised through this legislation and demanded that it be sent to the departmental standing committee which is headed by him.
The departmental related standing committee is already seized of the matter and had called representatives of the ministry of electronics and information technology, ministry of home affairs and department of atomic energy for a briefing on November 20.
Mr Tharoor protested against the move to send the bill to a select committee instead of standing committee, saying through this the government will have a smooth sailing on the draft bill instead of facing scrutiny. He added that as the chairperson of the standing committee on information technology, he could not advocate his own cause.
The minister later moved a resolution to send the draft bill to a select committee that was passed by a voice vote. The select committee will have 20 members from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha. The committee will give its report before the end of the Budget session.
Protesting against sending the draft bill to select committee, Mr Tharoor shot a letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla saying it was the “mandate and responsibility” of the standing committee that he heads to examine all matters relating to IT, electronics, telecom, postal services and allied subjects and this includes the Personal Data Protection Bill.
“Instead, in a brazen disregard for the committee, and by extension the parliamentary convention to standing committee, this government has chosen to establish a joint select committee, presumably in order to extend its control by a chairman from the ruling party,” Mr Tharoor wrote.
Terming bypassing standing committee as a “dangerous precedent”, Mr Tharoor added that such an act will leave the standing committee ineffective as it undermines the utility of the committee.
Earlier, while alleging that the bill violated the Constitution, Congress and Trinamool Congress accused the government for allowing “snooping industry” flourish under its watch. Congress leader of the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the “snooping industry” had grown over the years and Ravi Shankar Prasad’s ministry was “riddled with suspicions” about its conduct.
TMC MP Sougat Roy mentioned breach of privacy through Israeli software Pegasus which was to used to spy on WhatsApp communication of Indian journalists, activists and politicians. The Opposition also argued that there was no need to bring this bill as the existing cyber laws are good enough.
Refuting the allegations, electronics and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad clarified that the bill was necessitated after Supreme Court underlined the need for a data protection law. He further said that the law was needed to keep track of terrorists.
The Personal Data Protection Bill aims to provide protection to the privacy of individuals relating to their personal data. The proposed law seeks bars on storing and processing of personal data by entities without the explicit consent of an individual. It, however, provides for exemptions for “reasonable purposes” such as “prevention and detection of any unlawful activity including fraud, whistle-blowing, merger and acquisitions, network and information security, credit scoring, recovery of debt, processing of publicly available personal data and the operation of search engines.
It also lays 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 bill says personal data may be processed if such processing is necessary for the performance of any function of the State authorised by law.
The bill gives power to Central government to exempt any agency from application of this Act (i) in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order; or (ii) for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order.
The legislation provides for stringent ground rules for processing of personal and sensitive information of children, while mandating the processing of “critical” personal data only in India.