A good privacy law could fend off Chinese-style surveillance

Source: The post is based on an article “A good privacy law could fend off Chinese-Style surveillance” published in the Live Mint on 9th August 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.

Relevance: Data Protection Law in India

News: Recently, the government has withdrawn the personal data protection bill and has announced to replace it with, a comprehensive legal framework.

Background of data protection law and privacy law in India

In 2017, the Central government set up a panel under retired Justice B.N. Srikrishna to frame data protection norms.

Later in 2017, the SC held that the right to privacy is a part of the constitutional right to life and liberty.

Thereafter, the Central government introduced the data protection bill in Parliament in 2019.

Why does India need a robust data protection framework?

(1) At present, due to the absence of a robust data protection framework, there is a potential risk of the development of a mix of the surveillance state as well as surveillance capitalism in India. For example, The Police compelled Razorpay, a payment gateway, to supply data on donors to fact-checker AltNews. Although the records were obtained legally, there was no safeguard against their misuse because of the absence of data protection law in India.

(2) Rapid digitization without a strong data protection framework may leave the public vulnerable to exploitation. For example, the Government of India manages the world’s largest repository of biometric data. By 2026, India will have 1 billion smartphone users. Further, the consumer digital economy is poised for a 10-fold surge this decade to $800 billion.

(3) Other Countries; Europe’s general data protection law holds natural persons to be the owners of their personal data like names, email addresses, location, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, etc.

What were the issues in the Data Protection Bill 2019?

The bill gave the government unfettered access to personal data in the name of sovereignty and public order.

Srikrishna cautioned that the provisions in the bill could “turn India into an Orwellian State“.

The Central government sought to give the state an upper hand against both individuals and private-sector data collectors in the withdrawn data protection bill 2019.

Large global tech firms were concerned about the provisions of the withdrawn bill that insisted on storing “critical” personal data only in India for national security reasons. Localization gets in the way of efficient cross-border data storage and processing.

The bill also wanted to allow the platforms to do voluntary verification of social-media users, ostensibly to check fake news. However, the Internet Freedom Foundation pointed out that if social media platforms collect identity documents, it would leave users vulnerable to more sophisticated surveillance and commercial exploitation. Further, the platforms may start denying some services without identity checks. This may deprive the right to anonymity of whistle-blowers and political dissidents.

According to the government, a joint parliamentary panel that scrutinized the bill sought the 81 amendments.

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