81 amendments later, Personal Data Protection Bill withdrawn

The earlier bill drew intense scrutiny from privacy advocates, industry stakeholders and tech companies.

New Delhi: The government on Wednesday said it will withdraw the contentious Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill 2019 that has seen 81 amendments in the past three years and will introduce a new, sharper bill that fits fit into the comprehensive legal framework and protect the data of billions of citizens.

IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw told members of the Joint Committee of the Parliament (JCP) that the decision has been taken to protect the digital privacy of individuals and ensure the internet companies with utmost responsibility handle their data.

“The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 was deliberated in great detail by the Joint Committee of Parliament. 81 amendments were proposed and 12 recommendations were made towards a comprehensive legal framework on the digital ecosystem,” Vaishnaw said in a statement.

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“Considering the report of the JCP, a comprehensive legal framework is being worked upon. Hence, in the circumstances, it is proposed to withdraw ‘The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019’ and present a new bill that fits into the comprehensive legal framework,” he added.

The earlier bill drew intense scrutiny from privacy advocates, industry stakeholders and tech companies.

The IT Minister said that the decision to formulate a new Bill is to create a framework for organisational and technical measures in the processing of data, to lay down norms for social media platforms, cross-border transfer, accountability of entities processing data, remedies for unauthorised and harmful processing, to ensure the interest and security of the State and to establish a Data Protection Authority of India.

New Delhi-based privacy advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation had said the bill “provides large exemptions to government departments, prioritises the interests of big corporations, and does not adequately respect your fundamental right to privacy”.

The Bill was first brought in 2019 and was then referred to the Joint Committee.

The JCP report identified many relevant issues but beyond the scope of modern digital privacy law.

Minister of State for IT and Electronics, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, said that the PDP bill “will soon be replaced by a comprehensive framework of global standard laws, including digital privacy laws for contemporary and future challenges”.

Privacy is a fundamental right of Indian citizens and a “$1 trillion dollar digital economy requires global standard cyber laws,” Chandrasekhar said in a tweet.

According to experts, a strong data protection law can tame the country’s social media platforms and internet platforms, the way the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU has achieved.

New Delhi-based cyberlaw expert Virag Gupta told IANS that several cases of data breaches and tax evasion by Chinese companies have been detected by Indian agencies.

“To protect the national interest, a strong data protection law is the need of the hour. After the withdrawal of this PDP bill, the government must come up with a new bill within the stipulated time frame which may balance the privacy rights with the interest of Indian industry,” Gupta emphasised.

The government, time and again, has told Internet intermediaries and social media platforms to comply with the law of the land.

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