JUNE 9, 2018
Even as a 10-member government panel is due to submit its recommendations for a new data privacy bill, a group of lawyers on Friday uploaded a model citizens’ code, which they said could give the panel pointers to what India’s final privacy law should be.
The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) launched its community project, ‘Save our Privacy’, in what it described as a bid to safeguard individuals’ right to privacy. This model code, titled ‘Indian Privacy Code, 2018’, has been drafted by lawyers such Gautam Bhatia, Apar Gupta and Raman Jit Singh Chima, among others.
Many of these lawyers made a joint submission to the Justice BN Srikrishna Committee in the past. On Friday, they sent him an email with the copy of the code with its seven core principles. The core principles follow what IFF calls a “rights-based approach to protect people from harmful use of their personal data”.
“In a world where personal data has power, people need to be put in charge of their own lives,” said New Delhi-based lawyer Apar Gupta.
The draft bill sets a penalty of up to Rs 1 crore for the violation of privacy of citizens and a prison sentence of up to three years. It also provides for a penalty of up to Rs 10 crore to anyone found to be performing surveillance unlawfully, with a prison term of up to five years.
The move comes at a time when user data of Indians is under potential threat from social media companies that have been accused of data mining and sharing user information with private firms for advertising and marketing purposes.
There has also been a growing concern in India over the validity of the Aadhaar law. A Constitution bench of the Supreme Court has finished hearing a slew of petitions against the unique identity number and has reserved its judgment.
On 31 July, the government constituted the panel headed by Justice Srikrishna to study various issues relating to data protection and suggest a draft data protection bill.
IFF said in a statement that it had concerns over the “composition, lack of diversity and transparency” of the committee. It also said it was concerned about the lack of urgency India had shown about making a privacy law, and that its civil society project was important to build awareness on privacy and data protection in India.
“The Indian Privacy Code, 2018 ensures that right to privacy does not undermine the Right to Information Act. All the other existing laws including the Telegraph Act and the Aadhaar Act should be subject to this law,” Chima said.
“We hope the Justice BN Srikrishna Committee considers and adopts the language we propose,” he added.
According to a senior official at the home ministry who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the privacy bill hasn’t come up for discussion yet. “In any case, the said bill will be taken up by the IT ministry first. The IT ministry will be responsible for piloting the proposed bill on privacy and MHA will, in the later stages, give its opinion on security issues related to the proposed bill,” he said.
A government official on condition of anonymity said that its for the Justice Srikirshna Committee to look at the model privacy code launched today and decide what they want to use from it.
When contacted, Ajay Sawhney, secretary for ministry of electronics and technology said: “The Justice Srikrishna Committee will submit its report shortly.”
“The reason civil society is doing this is because the government is not sharing their draft bills,” said Sunil Abraham, founder of think tank Centre for Internet and Society (CIS). In 2013, CIS had also published a citizen’s draft privacy protection bill.