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Govt withdraws data protection bill from Parliament

The Indian government has decided to withdraw the Data Protection Bill, 2021, from the Lok Sabha, the Secretary General of the lower house said in a supplementary listing of business. The withdrawal adds to the delay in India framing a legal framework for protecting individuals’ personal data. 

But it may lead Big Tech to breathe a sigh of relief as industry associations opposed many parts of the bill, including those that required mandatory ‘non-personal’ data sharing. MediaNama reported another document stating that the government was withdrawing the bill to incorporate suggestions from the now-disbanded joint parliamentary committee on data protection. 

Even civil society groups have not been fully on board the bill as it stood. The Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital advocacy group, has called provisions of the bill ‘harmful’. 

In a public brief, the IFF said that the bill “has failed to prioritise the user,” and “benefits the government and large corporations”. The bill strengthened surveillance powers for the government and would have created a data protection authority that would have lacked independence, IFF said. 

As the government has not faced significant internal opposition on the specific provisions of the bill, it doesn’t appear likely that the updated “comprehensive legal framework” it is now saying it will table will improve much for users and companies. 

The Data Protection Bill is the implementation of the Supreme Court’s 2017 Puttaswamy v. Union of India judgement, which held that the right to privacy was fundamental under the Indian constitution. That judgement ordered the union government to protect citizen’s personal information, which this bill set out to do.

But the delays fly in the face of the Supreme Court’s order. Provisions in the bill arguably harm privacy instead of protecting it, and as a result the bill has faced opposition from not only members of the joint parliamentary committee — eight of whom dissented — but also from BN Srikrishna, the head of the committee that was first set up to deliberate a data protection bill after the court’s order. 

Srikrishna called the parliamentary committee’s version of the bill, which made major changes to the version submitted by his committee, “Orwellian” and spoke out against exemptions to the government from the bill.

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