Will the RTI Act be weakened by the DPDP Bill (Digital Personal Data Protection Bill)?

What is Digital Personal Data Protection Bill?

Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnav introduced the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023 (DPDP) in the Lok Sabha on Thursday (August 3). The Bill provides for the processing of digital personal data in a manner It recognizes the right of individuals to have their personal data protected and the need to process such personal data for legitimate purposes.
The central government had withdrawn a bill on data protection last year. It was withdrawn in view of the feedback from various agencies. Subsequently, on November 18, 2022, the government published a new draft bill called the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill- 2022 and started public consultation on this draft.
It received suggestions and comments from the public sector, organisations, associations and industry bodies and 38 Ministries or Departments of the Government of India.

What are its provisions?

If the data of users is leaked by a company and this rule is broken by the company, then a fine of up to Rs 250 crore can also be imposed on it. After this law is implemented, people will get the right to ask for details about their data collection, storage and its processing.
Provision has also been made in this regarding the situation of dispute. If there is a dispute, the Data Protection Board will decide in this situation. Citizens will have the right to claim compensation by going to the civil court. The draft includes both online and offline data, which has been digitized later. If profiling of Indians is being done from abroad or goods and services are being provided, then this will also apply to that. Personal data can be processed under this bill only if consent has been given for the same.
The Bill also states that users’ data should not be retained unless required for legal or business purposes. The new Personal Data Protection Bill also gives full rights to the owner of the biometric data. Even if an employer requires biometric data of an employee for attendance purposes, it will require explicit consent from the employee concerned.
The new Data Protection Bill will help rein in social media companies and reduce their arbitrariness. According to the new Data Protection Bill 2023, entities that misuse or fail to protect users’ digital data may face a fine of up to Rs 250 crore.
The Bill also proposes to amend Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act. However, the opposition says that this will weaken the RTI Act.

Other important provisions of the Bill

Under the new law, parental consent will be mandatory for accessing children’s data.
Government agencies will get special permission to use data on the basis of national security-law and order.
After deleting the account on social media, it will be mandatory for the company to delete the data.
Companies will not be able to use data other than their own business purpose. The user will have the right to rectify or erase his personal data.
It would be illegal to collect data to harm or target ads to children.

Why is it being opposed?

On one hand, where the government is counting the benefits of the bill, on the other hand it is being opposed by the opposition parties and some organisations. In fact, the bill proposes to amend section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
Currently this particular section prohibits sharing of personal information which has no relation to public activity or interest. However, the public body allows the release of information if it is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.
Opposition MPs are demanding to send it to the parliamentary committee while objecting to the proposed law. TMC MP Saugata Roy, Congress MP Manish Tewari and AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi protested while appearing in the Lok Sabha. Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary said that through this bill the government wants to trample the Right to Information Act. That’s why we will oppose such an objective. This bill should be sent to the Standing Committee for discussion.
Civil groups are also objecting to some of the provisions of the bill. The National Campaign for Right to Information (NCPRI) on Thursday said the proposed amendments would give undue powers to public information officers to withhold personal information. It has opposed the amendment to exempt section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.
NCPRI said that the legal framework for privacy and data protection should complement the RTI Act and not dilute the existing statutory framework that empowers citizens to hold the government accountable. The NCPRI also objected to the Data Protection Board proposed under the Bill, saying it lacked autonomy.
Apart from this, the Editors Guild of India has expressed concern over some provisions of the Digital Personal Data Protection (DPDP) Bill, saying that these may adversely affect the freedom of the press. In a statement issued on Sunday, the body said the bill seeks to provide for surveillance of citizens, including journalists and their sources creates an enabling framework.

What does the government have to say on the objections?

Minister of State for Electronics and IT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar said that the Bill, once passed by the Parliament, will protect the rights of all citizens. At the same time, on the objections, he said that the RTI Act does not mean the right to personal information. The Bill simply says that while the RTI Act may continue to ensure transparency and accountability for those in public life, the right to privacy certainly cannot be waived simply because a person is in public life.

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