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Probe agencies ask panel to make changes to privacy bill

The Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha in December last year and seeks to establish a Data Protection Authority

New Delhi: Security agencies came out in support of the crucial Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 which is being under consideration of the joint parliamentary committee, but the investigative agencies have asked the parliamentarians to tweak the Bill to make it more beneficial and also for greater prevention, detection and prosecution of crime.

During a meeting of the JPC members on Monday, representatives of National Investigation Agency (NIA), National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and Registrar General of India, were present for deliberation.

In the course of the meeting, representative of investigative agencies and Registrar General of India pointed out that Section 35 of the Bill that gives power of union government to exempt any agency of government from looking at the data should include section 36 of the Bill, which says that there should be certain exemptions while dealing with personal data in the interest of prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of any offence or any other contravention of any law for the time being in force.

“These organisations have supported the Bill but they want that section 35 and 36 should be read together or section 36 should become part of section 35 in the Bill. There will be more deliberations on these issues and only then a final decision will be taken," said a senior member of the committee.

The two clauses have become a cause of concern for opposition members who have demanded that these two sections of the Bill give unlimited power to the union government and impinge upon the privacy of citizens.

Members also talked about the low conviction rate in cases related to cyber crime. According to the data provided by NCRB, 170 cases were registered in 2017 but there was only one conviction. Similarly, in 2018 there were 97 cases registered under cyber crime but there was only two conviction although 81 people were arrested in these cases. Investigative agencies have also told members further said that chargesheet was filed against 85 people in 2017 and 48 people in 2018.

“The investigative agencies point out that they can only chargesheet a person and conviction in these cases depends on the judicial process," the member added.

Prior to Monday, the committee has had four meetings since it was formed in December last year. Its previous meeting took place in March. The frequency of committee’s meeting, much like other parliamentary committees, has been disrupted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic which has necessitated strict guidelines for such meetings.

“The meetings are going well and it is an evolving process. We are going through clause by clause discussion at this stage and currently listening to views of government authorities including investigative agencies on some of the concerns that were flagged earlier. It will take a while before we come up with our final observations," another senior member of the committee said requesting anonymity.

The Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha in December last year and seeks to establish a Data Protection Authority. Amid concerns from lawmakers over citizens’ right to privacy, it was sent to the joint parliamentary committee. After one extension, the committee has been asked to submit its report by the second week of the monsoon session of Parliament, the dates for which are yet to be announced.

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