Right to privacy: Centre constitutes panel to draft data protection bill; former SC judge to lead expert group

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has appointed an expert group headed by former Supreme Court judge BN Srikrishna to draft a data protection law, Livemint has reported.

This comes in the backdrop of the apex court hearing arguments in a batch of cases which will determine whether there is a fundamental right to privacy. The decision to constitute the group was communicated by the UIDAI to the Supreme Court as part of its arguments on Tuesday.

Data protection is one of the facets of the right to privacy as a data protection law will protect your personal information, which is collected, processed and stored by "automated" means or intended to be part of a filing system. This becomes extremely relevant in the current Indian context as the Aadhaar debate is centred around the collection of citizens' personal information. A data protection law will thus necessarily regulate the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which is responsible for maintaining Aadhaar data.

The memo, which communicated the constitution of the committee, said that it will study various issues relating to data protection in India and make specific suggestions for the Central government to consider. It will also formulate principles to be considered for data protection in India and suggest a draft Data Protection Bill.

Right to privacy: Centre constitutes panel to draft data protection bill; former SC judge to lead expert group

Representational image. Reuters

The memo also puts the onus on MeitY to collect the necessary information and present it to the expert group within eight weeks of the date of the memo. Based on the information presented, the group will start its deliberations. However, there is no time frame in which the group must submit its report. The only instruction in this regard is that the group will try to submit its report "as expeditiously as possible".

While informing the Supreme Court of the decision to form the committee, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the government expects to frame a Data Protection Bill which will be along the lines of the "technology-neutral" draft Privacy Bill submitted by an earlier expert committee led by former Delhi High Court chief justice AP Shah, reports The Hindu. That bill was presented to the Planning Commission in 2012 but no steps were taken on its recommendations.

Out of the committee members, Arghya Sengupta has earlier made his views clear on the right to privacy when he wrote, "… when a blunt instrument such as a blanket right to privacy is used to petition the court in order to stop the government's Aadhaar programme, which is the context in which this controversy arose, SC is well entitled to pause and require the instrument to be sharpened."

Another member, Aruna Sundarajan, has laid down what data privacy laws need to look at. She said, "First, what should be the security framework for any kind of digital payments? Two, the standards and liabilities of the service provider. Third, data privacy and confidentiality. Fourth, storage and access of data. And if someone fails to comply, what penalty should apply, especially where details of millions of citizens (are involved)."

Ajay Bhushan Pandey, defending Aadhaar, wrote in The Indian Express: "The critics tend to forget that Aadhaar empowers the people, not the state. India's effort to provide unique identification to its people and digitise its citizen databases, public or private, is mistaken as an exercise towards invasion of privacy… Often, the current debate reminds us of Europe’s Luddite movement in the 19th century when mechanisation was opposed due to fears of job loss."

The right to privacy cases before the Supreme Court have come from various petitioners, some of whom are worried about the State storing and sharing their biometric information. While the government has claimed that its user data is safe and secure, the committee will design a broader framework which will cover all other kinds of data and ensure that the deliberations on the issue start as soon as possible.

The Livemint report also said that once the privacy question is settled by the nine-judge Constitution bench, the remaining issues related to Aadhaar will be heard by a smaller bench.

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Updated Date: Aug 02, 2017 13:58:56 IST

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