As the Joint Committee of Parliament meets Monday to adopt its report on the Personal Data Protection Bill, Congress Rajya Sabha member in the panel Jairam Ramesh has submitted a dissent note. His objection primarily is to a clause that allows the Centre to exempt any agency under its purview from the law.
In his note, which he posted on his Twitter handle, Ramesh said he had suggested amendments to Section 35 and Section 12 of the Bill. “The JCP gave me a patient hearing but I was unable to convince it of the merits of my arguments. The general consensus in the JCP appeared to be in favour of not accepting my amendments and I did not want to force the issue beyond a point,” he said in his note to Chairman of the Panel P P Chaudhuri.
Today, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 will adopt its report. I’m compelled to submit a detailed dissent note. But that should not detract from the democratic manner in which the Committee has functioned. Now, for the debate in Parliament. pic.twitter.com/tavBnF9y5B
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) November 22, 2021
He said the design of the Bill assumes that the constitutional right to privacy arises only where operations and activities of private companies are concerned. “Government and government agencies are treated as a separate privileged class whose operations and activities are always in the public interest and individual privacy considerations are secondary,” he noted.
Ramesh said, “Section 35 gives unbridled powers to the central government to exempt any agency from the entire Act itself. Under the amendment, I had suggested that the central government will have to get Parliamentary approval for exempting any of its agencies from the purview of the law. Even then, the government must always comply with the Bill’s requirement of fair and reasonable processing and implementing the necessary security safeguards.”
“I was willing to compromise provided the JCP had recommended that the reasons for exemption that would be recorded in writing as provided for in the Bill would be tabled in both Houses of Parliament. This would bring greater accountability and transparency, but even that was not found acceptable,” he said.
He said Section 12 (a) (i) creates certain exceptions for governments and government agencies from the provisions of consent.
“While fully understanding the logic for such exemptions in a number of circumstances, I had suggested some changes to make this exemption less sweeping and less automatic. The JCPs report allows a period of two years for private companies to migrate to the new data protection regime but government and government agencies have no such stipulation,” Ramesh said in his note.