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Former Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna. (HT)
Former Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna. (HT)

‘Data protection bill’s goal is now muddled’

Categories around personal data must not be subject to the govt’s discretion, says former judge Srikrishna

NEW DELHI : The proposed data protection bill seems to have deviated from the original goal and the emphasis is now more on security and the government accessing data, said retired Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna and Zia Mody, founder of law firm AZB & Partners, at the Global Fintech Fest 2020.

In 2018, a committee headed by Srikrishna had submitted to the government a draft report on the data protection law. Subsequently, the government had in December 2019 introduced the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill in Parliament.

“Security agencies must have really dominated the motivation and thinking of the persons who decided the 2019 bill. Laws are meant for the benefit of the citizen and should not suffocate them," said Srikrishna.

Mody feels the problem lies with the government’s perception of data. “The government is seeing data as a national resource. The mindset is not to protect the citizens but to access and control the data, which is a dilemma. In addition to protecting personal data, the government wants to have full access to personal data and that is an issue," Mody said.

The Srikrishna report recognized data as a fundamental right and tried to balance it against other considerations that will stand the test of reasonableness and will not be struck down as excessive by the court, Mody said. However, she added that there is now a feeling that the bill, unless it gets modified, has a big brother feeling about it.

“If there is really something that concerns India’s security or which prevents, or results in investigating a breach of law, personal data should be accessible. However, the way the exemptions are enlarged under the proposed PDP bill and the DPA (data protection authority) is now not the end all and be all. What can be added as additional sensitive personal data can ultimately go to the central government," said Mody.

“Categories around personal data must be hardwired and not be subject to the discretion of the government. If you don’t have that, you are basically creating an Orwellian state," said Srikrishna.

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