Data Protection Bill: Opposition MPs likely to take dissent note

New Delhi: At least five out of 30 members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill are moving dissenting notes. At least three of these are directed at a controversial clause that allows the central government to exempt any agency within its purview from the law, sources said.

According to the information, Congress leaders Jairam Ramesh, Manish Tewari and Gaurav Gogoi; Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien; And Biju Janata Dal MP Amar Patnaik will present the notes of dissent. Sources said that more members may be included in this list. The panel is meeting on Monday to adopt the long-pending report on the law. The panel has been studying the bill since 2019.

Clause 35, in the name of “sovereignty”, “friendly relations with foreign states” and “security of the state”, permits any agency under the central government to be exempted from all or any of the provisions of the law. This section assumes significance in the backdrop of recent revelations in the Pegasus spyware case, where both private and public citizens were allegedly spied on by the government.

The panel found a middle ground on the clause by agreeing that the government would have to record in writing the reasons for granting exemption to any agency. There is a demand that this clause be suitably amended so as to also include a provision for obtaining approval of Parliament for availing such exemption.

Mr. Ramesh was one of the members who argued that the government should present the reasons on record in Parliament to provide exemptions to bring more transparency and accountability to any government agency.

In his dissent note against Clause 35, Mr. Ramesh said that the design of the PDP 2019 Bill recognizes that the constitutional right to privacy arises only where the operations and activities of private companies are concerned. “Governments and government agencies are treated as a separate privileged class whose operations and activities are always in the public interest and considerations of individual privacy are secondary,” he wrote.

He said the view that the Supreme Court’s August 2017 Puttaswamy (Privacy) decision is relevant only to “a very, very, very small section of the Indian population” and “is deeply flawed and disturbing in my view”.