Activists demand JPC consult civil society on Data Protection Bill


Technology and digital activists have requested the Joint Parliamentary Committee debating the landmark Personal Data Protection Bill should widen the consultation to include more representatives of the civil society. The JPC was constituted last year to examine the new data protection bill. The committee, chaired by BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi, has held 30 consultations as of November 20 with industry, government bodies, and some think tanks.

Civil society has made up for only 10% of the total number of witnesses examined for depositions, according to calculations of Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), a non-governmental organisation working for digital rights and liberties. The JPC has so far met with representatives of companies such as Paytm, Amazon, Twitter, Google, Facebook, Jio, Airtel, Ola, and Uber among many others. Among government organisations, it has met the ministries of electronics and IT, law and justice, and home affairs, Reserve Bank of India, UIDAI, National Crime Records Bureau, and National Investigation Agency. Within civil society, the committee has met with Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Centre, National University of Juridical Sciences, and Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS).

Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), a legal services organisation working to protect freedom in digital world, in a recent letter to the JPC said that while the committee has invited social media intermediaries, fintech companies and travel aggregators for oral consultation, civil society organisations working for defending rights of citizens in the digital space have been left out of the consultation process.

“Civil society organisations play an important role by advocating for rights of the people and acting as a medium of checking the encroachment on people’s rights,” wrote Prasanth Sugathan, legal director at SFLC. He expressed hope that JPC will invite civil society organisations that “defend rights of citizens in the digital space” for a consultation. IFF, too, wrote to JPC requesting it to hold further consultations with academics, civil society, digital rights experts and organisations, and technologists as they can offer not only domain expertise but also a unique perspective on how best to regulate the processing of data beyond large technology companies or government departments.

“By helping the JPC understand how best to not only comprehensively protect the digital rights of the citizens but also ensure that social and economic justice are enshrined in our legislative framework, they can perform an important function and help build a more robust data protection law,” Rohin Garg, Associate Policy Counsel, Internet Freedom Foundation, wrote. Activists, policy folks and lawyers have also expressed shock at JPC questioning Twitter on stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra’s tweets against Chief Justice of India, or it incorrectly tagging geotagging Ladakh as part of China. “The JPC has become a muscle-flexing exercise inspired by the United States and Singapore, pulling up global technology companies,” said a technology lawyer following the JPC proceedings closely. IFF said JPC should work within its mandate and not get distracted by “extraneous issues” such as content takedowns of Kamra’s tweets.




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