The government is likely to bring the fresh Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill, latest by the next Budget session of Parliament. It would be part of a set of four Bills to cover the entire digital technology landscape — telecom sector, information/digital technology, privacy and social media.

In an interview to BusinessLine, Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnav disclosed that deliberations within the government following the tabling of the exhaustive report of the Joint Committee of Parliament on PDP Bill were focused on whether to have an omnibus legislation or to have specific statutes for better regulation of the highly dynamic digital technology landscape. The government opted for the latter.

Changing with times

“We are looking at a very comprehensive set of legislation which addresses the fundamental constructs within the digital landscape. The first area is telecom,regulated by the 1885 Telegraph Act. We need a modern telecom Bill because the modern digital access is primarily through the telephone. Second is revamping the Information Technology Act of the 2000 vintage. The world has changed, the way the internet is governed has changed, technology and its usage has changed. The third is a focused legislation on protecting personal data and privacy. We must understand that there is a very asymmetric relationship between the kind of data that the big tech companies store and the use that we have of the various platform. This needs to be addressed properly. Privacy concerns are critical and have been framed in the Puttaswamy judgment by the Supreme Court. The fourth leg is social media accountability,” Vaishnav told BusinessLine.

Draft almost ready

Also, the government has factored in the urgency for a privacy legislation and does not want to delay the introduction of the new PDP Bill beyond the next Budget session around February-March, 2023. “We are looking at the coming Budget session as the deadline for bringing in the new privacy Bill,” the Minister said, adding, “There have been very detailed deliberations and the JCP report is fairly exhaustive. So we should ideally not repeat it.”

The new draft of the Bill is at the final stage. “We are in an advanced stage of drafting the Bill. It will be focused on privacy. This would be one of the cornerstones of the digital world. Instead of putting 10 different things in one legislation, we have specific Bills focusing on specific aspects of digital technology and its usage,” Vaishnaw said.

Personal, non-personal data

The confusion about non-personal data – such as traffic diversions, soil trends, weather conditions – being part of the privacy Bill is being debated within the government. Although the Minister was not forthcoming about the contents of the new legislation, he seemed to favour a segregation of personal and non-personal data.

“As a matter of propriety, I cannot comment on the new draft. I am only telling you what should be factored in. The original Bill was focused on personal data protection. The JPC has enlarged its scope to include non-personal data. We need to have a proper mechanism on how to process non-personal data and understand the difference between how to protect privacy and how to process non-personal data. We need to take a considered view on whether non-personal data should go into the Bill concerning digital technology. We still need to take a call on that,” said the Minister.