How far have we come as India prepares for its much awaited data protection law.

Tl:dr

As the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018 makes it way to Parliament, we showcase some of civil society's work in ensuring India has a well-established data protection framework. It is important that the current concerns with the law be addressed and to achieve this, we provide for a few steps of action that IFF will engage in through its continuing support funnelled through the SaveOurPrivacy campaign.

Some background Info

In July 2017, the government of India appointed a Committee of Experts on a Data Protection Framework for India chaired by Justice (Retd.) B.N. Srikrishna. It purpose was study issues related to data protection in India; after which it provided a report which informed the proposed 'comprehensive' law on data protection that now graces us.

This law has been a concern since it was birthed; it not only fails to include a mirade of significant aspects, but some of its content proves to be extremely problematic. It is pertinent that these worries be addressed not only with the intention of furthering privacy and data protection but especially due it being intensely tied to the brink of this fourth industrial revolution we find ourselves in. We have anchored the SaveOurPrivacy campaign that has numerous takes on the Bill, the right to privacy and issues that stem out of it (Read here for more).

Our fight for Data Protection

In our continuing work, we will seek to ensure the highest levels of data protection and surveillance reform through this law. Much of this will build off past work which will now provide a solid foundation to contrast the Government's bill with civil society efforts to ensure a synthesis of the best ideas and language in this law.

  1. Engaging with Parliament: IFF has been consistently involved in ensuring that data protection finds its rightful place in India and this means it requires an all en-compassing legislative framework. An important chunk of this includes surveillance safeguards; the Bill in its current form makes no mention of this and as need for surveillance reform in India is close to our hearts, we encapsulate this in our work. Almost two years ago, with the help of our generous volunteers, we assisted the office of Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Lok Sabha, MP from Kerala in filing a user centric privacy bill in Parliament. This year, through Dr. Ravikumar Lok Sabha, MP from Tamil Nadu), a substantive redraft of the Indian Privacy Code created by the SaveOurPrivacy campaign was introduced in Parliament as 'Personal Data and Information Privacy Code Bill, 2019'(Read all about it here). Both these Bills relied heavily on the 7 Privacy Principles the Indian Privacy Code was based on.
  2. Advocacy with Ministries and Committees: Throughout the year, IFF has sent a number of representations to various Ministries and the Standing Committee of Information Technology highlighting the need for a data protection law to uphold the individual's right to privacy and especially for transparency in content of the Bill that is to be introduced as law (Read more about it).
  3. Leading on public awareness: Be it through our explainers, social media and even events (remember #PrivacySupreme, wasn't it fantastic?), we understand the importance in growing awareness of the need for the protection of one's data.
  4. Litigation: We hold the clear belief that any Data Protection effort in India will be incomplete without surveillance reform. The reality of protecting the informational privacy of Individuals in India requires both to walk together in lock step together. India cannot protect people from profiling and 360 degree profiles if a data protection law only seeks to regulate the consensual gathering of personal data but does not address and regulate survelliance activities of the State and even private parties. As surveillance reform is clearly important to us, IFF has even approached the Supreme Court on this need as we challenge interception powers of the Government (Read here for more).

Continuing efforts

Now that the Government proposes to introduce a Data Protection law in this Session of Parliament, we are concerned that we have become more concerned with the process (that has brought a degree of impatience) than the actual substance of the proposals. This is with good reason. It's been a long and ardous wait. However, there is little reason to proceed with haste given the importance of this legislative effort.

We are today more concerned with the substance of this proposed law, which has yet to be made public since the Srikrishna Committee first proposed it. There exists little transparency on its proposals and the changes which have been made over the course of the year (or, even if not made) are of tremendous concern and mystery.

With the public left completely in the dark with regard to its content, we intend to take a few measures to ensure concerns with the law are addressed:

  • Ensure referral: IFF will examine several options in our advocacy arsenal, to make sure the text of this bill is referred to the Standing Committee considering the lack of transparency and it is publicly unknown. We commit to working in partnership and collaborate with all civil society efforts, academics, experts and collectives.
  • Persisting engagement: We will continue to work objectively to advance public interest. Through continued engagement with the Government in any way we can in upholding the right to privacy and the safeguards awarded through the data protection law.
  • Focus on Individual rights: We will contiue to fight for you. There is a flood of technologies being used in a manner that violate ¬†individual rights. We will work tirelessly to ensure that each government programme, or private use impacting privacy is rights oriented by making sure dangerous proposals do not see the light of day.

We would like to do more, and have further impact! To do this, we need your support in any way possible. One good way to support the #SaveOurPrivacy campaign is to become an IFF member today!