Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019: JPC’s recommendations will leave scribes, media vulnerable to being sued
JPC also recommended empowering govt agencies, particularly Data Protection Authority (DPA), with unlimited power while investigating data privacy and breach cases, which may lead to overzealousness
Among the Bills taken up for discussion during the ongoing winter session of Parliament, the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill, 2019, is making some noises in relevant quarters. After two years of deliberations, the JPC report on PDP Bill was tabled in both houses of Parliament on December 16.
The JPC recommendations on the PDP Bill include three important and potentially controversial elements.
First, it doesn’t provide any exemption to journalists and media houses from privacy and data protection laws. It means a journalist and media house can be easily sued for infringement of privacy or personal data.
Second, it questions the “intermediary” status of social media that doesn't own responsibility for what’s published on their platforms. So, they virtually allow anyone to say anything including defamatory claims without any proof.
Third, the JPC recommends bringing non-personal data under the preview of PDP Bill. This proposal has a significant bearing on businesses that may be forced to disclose all kinds of data -- personal and non-personal.
Finally, it recommends empowering government agencies particularly the Data Protection Authority (DPA) with unlimited power in matters of data privacy and breach investigations. It also recommends punishments for violation of privacy and personal data protection laws with jail terms and cash fines.
The opposition and the stakeholders such as the media and private businesses will raise their voices against the government trying to curtail their freedom on the pretext of privacy and data protection. However, given the low-education level among the vast majority of the Indian population, the idea of personal data protection and how the government might try to use it to tighten its grip on people and businesses is likely to raise fewer eyebrows notwithstanding the opposition’s resolve to challenge the issue.
However, those who understand the matter know privacy and data protection is the next big thing after the Internet. Think of the cloud, artificial intelligence, analytics, and the metaverse – the technologies that’s disrupting and reshaping the world order have data at the core of it. The ownership and piracy of the data, and in turn privacy and protection, is going to be a serious issue, almost as serious as oil or water is today.
In July 2020, Google CEO Sundar Pichai held a virtual meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and discussed a range of issues including privacy and data security. The 46-year-old tech icon of Indian origin believes that privacy is "one of the most important topics of our time." He thinks the idea of privacy is personal and, therefore, people should be given clear and individual choices on how their data is going to be used.
In this context, the fact that the government has the largest access to personal and non-personal data is irrefutable. Pichai says, “Work on privacy and security is never done.”
Does that mean the government must take people into confidence on how it’s going to use personal and non-personal data? Shouldn’t the government bring all its agencies under the purview of evolving data protection and privacy laws?
A government is not much different from the people it rules. So, India might take its sweet time before it is able to catch up with the latest trends on this front.
The creator of bitcoin who goes by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto is still unidentified after 13 years of creating software as a currency that’s threatening to disrupt international financial systems. Nakamoto is not alone! In the crypto world, there are hundreds of NFT creators who go by pseudonyms and choose to remain anonymous, earning millions of dollars for GIFs that exist barely for a few seconds on the screen.
What’s most interesting is the fact that they are successful in staying anonymous and out of governments’ surveillance in this age and time when it’s impossible not to leave digital footprints even if you live on an isolated island!
Governments are known to be conservative rather than broad-minded and liberal. But the changing landscape must make them rethink and reimagine their roles. Framing laws that restrict freedom and put a break on technology-driven advancements are retrograde at any rate. That must be shunned.
The nearly trillion-dollar company, Facebook dropped its name to pick Meta, making its choices aligned with what’s trending and what holds the future. Metaverse is going to be a completely anonymous world, where everyone will have a digital avatar rather than his or her photo on the status.
Blockchain will be the underpinning technology that is and will be beyond any intrusion or surveillance. It will have its own ecosystem from money to marketplaces, from virtual cities to smart contracts, and from NFTs to gaming.
The governments need to catch up with emerging technologies, not compete with them. Leave alone policing, it needs to provide more freedom and an enabling environment for the culture of inventions and innovations to take root. It must project itself as the protector of freedom and privacy at the same time.
It’s not the duty of the Opposition every time to remind the government that it's overshooting its limits. It’s for the government, too, to realise that it may be shooting itself in the foot by its decisions.
Not letting the media have its freedom is surely one such step.
(Views are personal)