Why Centre withdrew Data Protection Bill 2019 and what is in the offing

Government is likely to come up with more comprehensive legislation in winter session of Parliament

New Delhi: Data protection is among the most significant issues being debated in public space due to the growing role of technology in the lives of people and the government has decided to withdraw the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 and come up with more comprehensive legislation.

The issue has several dimensions and the Joint Committee of Parliament which scrutinised the bill made major recommendations making it necessary for the government to have a relook at the bill.

Union Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Wednesday moved a motion for withdrawal of the bill in Lok Sabha. The government is likely to come up with more comprehensive legislation in the winter session of Parliament.

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The 2019 bill had come under criticism from some civil society groups who said that considerable exemptions have been given to the government and its agencies. Some foreign tech companies apparently had issues with provisions concerning data localisation.

The 2019 bill was also deliberated after considerable deliberation. Ashwini Vaishnaw on Thursday explained the reason behind withdrawing the Bill asserting that the aim is to bring new compressive legislation at par with the technology landscape which is changing rapidly.

He said the Joint Committee of Parliament recommended 81 amendments in that Bill that had 99 sections which practically meant overhauling the Bill.

Speaking to ANI, the Union Minister said, the Joint Parliamentary Committee recommended major changes in the Bill, which was like rewriting the entire Bill.

“The Joint Parliamentary Committee did very extensive work. They consulted a very large number of stakeholders. After it, the Joint Committee of Parliament gave a very comprehensive report which recommended 81 amendments in a Bill that was of 99 sections, it was practically rewriting the entire bill. Apart from the amendments, they were some 12 major suggestions were there from the committee,” he said.

The minister said that it was important to withdraw the old Bill to come up with a contemporary and modern legal framework to tackle the challenges of coping with the rapidly changing technology.

Apart from the new Data Protection Bill, there is also a Telecom Bill and the amended IT Act of 2000 – all of which are expected to create the legal framework for India’s digital economy.

“To make sure that we do a compressive Bill it was important to do withdraw the old Bill and very soon we will be coming out with a new Bill. With the whole digital economy that we have and the way the technology landscape is changing rapidly, we need a very contemporary and modern legal framework. Today telecom is the primary method by which data is consumed,” he said.

“Our focus on making social media accountable has given good results. There is a good response to any law enforcement agency request which comes. No question of coming under any pressure, it is a very conscious decision (of withdrawal) and a well-thought-out process,” he added.

The government had July 31, 2017, constituted a “committee of Experts on Data Protection” chaired by Justice BN Srikrishna to examine the issues relating to data protection. The committee examined the issues on data protection and submitted its report on July 27, 2018.

The 2019 Bill sought to bring a strong and robust data protection framework for India and to set up an Authority for protecting personal data and empowering the citizens’ with rights relating to their personal data ensuring their fundamental right to “privacy and protection of personal data”. The Bill also sought to create a policy framework for data usage, including by tech giants such as Meta and Google.

The bill was sent to a Joint Committee of Parliament which gave its report on December 16, 2021.

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