- Background: A new Standing Committee on Information Technology headed by Mr. Shashi Tharoor was announced by the Government. IFF wrote to the members of the new Standing Committee about the need for greater transparency and public participation in its processes and highlighted substantive digital rights issues which require urgent attention.
- Valuable Forum for Engagement: Parliamentary Standing Committees can provide a valuable forum for citizens, experts and other stakeholders to make their voice heard in the legislative process. Since their recommendations are tabled before the Parliament, they also perform an advisory function and guide law making.
On September 14, 2019, the newly constituted Standing Committee on Information Technology was announced by the Government. The Committee will be headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor as its chairperson. The Committee comprises of 31 Members of Parliament with 21 from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha.
Why are Parliamentary Committees important?
Parliamentary committees are vital aids to parliamentary and legislative processes through deliberations, interactions and debates amongst stakeholders to an issue. Raman Jit Singh Chima, co-chair of IFF provides a succinct explanation on the especially on Committee on Information Technology, "It plays a crucial role in holding government and other entities to account, opening up the policymaking process on technology issues to citizens and expert inputs, and using its power to call for hearings to also serve as a clear signalling function as to the approach the people of India wish on an issue." (Read here for more).
At the conclusion of the year, the Committees even provide reports with findings and recommendations which are shared with the Government and tabled in Parliament providing advisory value. Apart from what it seems as entirely too procedural, the Committee is of incredible consequence as it helps hold the Government to account while also providing a platform through submissions or even hearings, for both industry and the public to engage on significant issues.
A few suggestions.
As this new Committee forms, we have taken the opportunity to write to them on three very particular issues:
- Transparency and accessibility: We highlight the need for further public participation through comments and also suggest that public depositions will enable better civic engagement and what better way to increase transparency than to begin telecasting proceedings. Wouldn't it be great to have public viewing of these Committees brainstorming?
- Unfinished homework: We point out the need to conclude matters deliberated on by the previous Committee such as the consultation on net neutrality and the need to safeguard citizen's data online, to name a few, which are incredibly important issues that need clear outputs.
- What's in store: With technology finding new ways to leave us befuddled, we suggest a few prevailing issues such as a legal framework for surveillance reform, the current state of free speech amongst many others, that need proper attention by the Committee.
We're supremely excited to engage with the Committee in every way we possibly can and we hope there will be fruitful deliberation that will result in better governance of technology while putting the fundamental rights of the Indian citizen first.
Links to important documents
- Letter to the Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Information Technology (link)