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Personal Data Protection Bill can turn India into ‘Orwellian State’: Justice BN Srikrishna

The man who led the committee says Data Protection Bill could potentially ensure no oversight on govt agencies.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Dec 12, 2019, 11.34 AM IST
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“They have removed the safeguards. That is most dangerous,” Srikrishna told ET.
BENGALURU: Justice BN Srikrishna, who led the committee that drafted the Personal Data Protection Bill (PDP), said the bill placed in Parliament on Wednesday, which allows the Centre to exempt its agencies from some or all provisions, is “dangerous” and can turn India into an “Orwellian State”.

The government could exempt its agencies from rules that govern processing of personal data citing national security, public order and friendly relations with foreign states. However, this will be subject to procedures, safeguards and oversight mechanism of the respective agency.

“They have removed the safeguards. That is most dangerous. The government can at any time access private data or government agency data on grounds of sovereignty or public order. This has dangerous implications,” Srikrishna told ET.

The new bill was cleared by the Union Cabinet last week and shared with Members of Parliament on Tuesday. On December 11, it was referred to a joint select committee of both the Houses of Parliament amid protests by the Opposition. The committee could submit a report before the Budget session of the Parliament in early 2020.

“The Select Committee has the right to change this. If they call me, I will tell them this is nonsense. I believe there should be judicial oversight on government access,” Srikrishna added.

“It will weaken the bill and turn India into an Orwellian State.”

Orwellian State is a term used to denote draconian control of its people by a state as described in the novel ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ by George Orwell.

The PDP bill is meant to ensure Indian citizens have control of their personal data. It is India’s first step towards a privacy framework and sets a framework for the governance of personal data.

In the draft bill, the panel headed by Srikrishna had put safeguards on processing of personal data in the interests of the security of the state. It explicitly stated that it should be authorised pursuant to a law, must be necessary and proportionate to interest being achieved.

It had implied that the government had to adhere to the Supreme Court’s privacy judgement in 2017, which mandates the government to declare a specific objective for collecting private data, the authorities ordering this and what procedures it will follow.

The draft bill was released by the panel-headed by Srikrishna last year. Since then the draft has undergone extensive inter-ministerial consultation.

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