India’s Digital Personal Data Protection Bill passed: “it’s a bad law”

Another blow for privacy: India’s rights-threatening data protection law must be amended

In another blow for privacy in India, the notorious Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023 was passed by the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament today, August 7. India’s upper house, the Rajya Sabha, must seize the last opportunity to amend the Bill before it’s written into law — protect the rights of people across India now.

India’s Data Protection Bill threatens more than the fundamental right to privacy. This dangerous legislation is also censorship in disguise, and aggravates issues with the free speech-threatening framework under the Information Technology Act. By passing this Bill, authorities are launching an attack on the right to information, which is critical to enable transparency and accountability in respect of public duties. Namrata Maheshwari, Asia Pacific Policy Counsel, Access Now

The Bill now enables the government to block information and services on broad grounds. Further, it weakens India’s celebrated right to information through a blanket restriction on disclosure of personal information, even though the Right to Information Act already protects privacy.

It was today opposed by some parliamentarians, whose reasons paralleled external stakeholders’: it jeopardises privacy, grants excessive exemptions to the government, and fails to establish an independent regulator. In addition to enhancing  the government’s control over personal data, the Bill also contains insidious provisions that will aggravate existing red flags on censorship and damage the right to information regime.

In what is on brand for this Bill in terms of the refusal to incorporate feedback from civil society, many rights-damaging provisions have never been released for consultation. The lower house debated the Bill for less than one hour before passing it without any substantive amendments.

The process followed by the government to have this Data Protection Bill passed is indicative of what enforcement of the current version would look like — prioritisation of government interest over people’s rights, favourable terms for Big Tech, and consistent efforts to evade accountability. Parliamentarians in the upper house must fulfil their duty of prioritising the voice and interests of the people by meaningfully fixing this draconian law. Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific Policy Director, Access Now

Parliamentarians have a responsibility towards the people of India to make drastic amendments as the Bill makes its way through the upper house. Without these much needed changes, privacy in India will be worse off  than it is now.