Recently, the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 was introduced in Parliament. The Bill has been referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee for detailed examination, and the report is expected by the Budget Session, 2020. The Bill seeks to provide for protection of personal data of individuals, create a framework for processing such personal data, and establishes a Data Protection Authority for the purpose. In this blog, we provide a background to the 2019 Bill, and explain some of its key provisions.
What is personal data and data protection?
Data can be broadly classified into two types: personal and non-personal data. Personal data pertains to characteristics, traits or attributes of identity, which can be used to identify an individual. Non-personal data includes aggregated data through which individuals cannot be identified. For example, while an individual’s own location would constitute personal data; information derived from multiple drivers’ location, which is often used to analyse traffic flow, is non-personal data. Data protection refers to policies and procedures seeking to minimise intrusion into the privacy of an individual caused by collection and usage of their personal data.
Why was a Bill brought for personal data protection?
In August 2017, the Supreme Court held that privacy is a fundamental right, flowing from the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Court also observed that privacy of personal data and facts is an essential aspect of the right to privacy. In July 2017, a Committee of Experts, chaired by Justice B. N. Srikrishna, was set up to examine various issues related to data protection in India. The Committee submitted its report, along with a Draft Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018 to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in July 2018. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 states that the Bill is based on the recommendations of the report of the Expert Committee and the suggestions received from various stakeholders.
How is personal data regulated currently?
Currently, the usage and transfer of personal data of citizens is regulated by the Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2011, under the IT Act, 2000. The rules hold the companies using the data liable for compensating the individual, in case of any negligence in maintaining security standards while dealing with the data. The Expert Committee in its report, held that while the IT rules were a novel attempt at data protection at the time they were introduced, the pace of development of digital economy has shown its shortcomings.3 For instance, (i) the definition of sensitive personal data under the rules is narrow, and (ii) some of the provisions can be overridden by a contract. Further, the IT Act applies only to companies, not to the government.
What does the Personal Data Protection Bill provide?
The Bill regulates personal data related to individuals, and the processing, collection and storage of such data. Under the Bill, a data principal is an individual whose personal data is being processed. The entity or individual who decides the means and purposes of data processing is known as data fiduciary. The Bill governs the processing of personal data by both government and companies incorporated in India. It also governs foreign companies, if they deal with personal data of individuals in India.
Will individuals have rights over their data?
The Bill provides the data principal with certain rights with respect to their personal data. These include seeking confirmation on whether their personal data has been processed, seeking correction, completion or erasure of their data, seeking transfer of data to other fiduciaries, and restricting continuing disclosure of their personal data, if it is no longer necessary or if consent is withdrawn. Any processing of personal data can be done only on the basis of consent given by data principal.
Are there any restrictions on processing of an individual’s data?
The Bill also provides for certain obligations of data fiduciaries with respect to processing of personal data. Such processing should be subject to certain purpose, collection and storage limitations. For instance, personal data can be processed only for specific, clear and lawful purpose. Additionally, all data fiduciaries must undertake certain transparency and accountability measures such as implementing security safeguards and instituting grievance redressal mechanisms to address complaints of individuals. Certain fiduciaries would be notified as significant data fiduciaries (based on certain criteria such as volume of data processed and turnover of fiduciary). These fiduciaries must undertake additional accountability measures such as conducting a data protection impact assessment before conducting any processing of large scale sensitive personal data (includes financial data, biometric data, caste, religious or political beliefs).
What is the grievance redressal mechanism if the above restrictions are not followed?
To ensure compliance with the provisions of the Bill, and provide for further regulations with respect to processing of personal data of individuals, the Bill sets up a Data Protection Authority. The Authority will be comprised of members with expertise in fields such as data protection and information technology. Any individual, who is not satisfied with the grievance redressal by the data fiduciary can file a complaint to the Authority. Orders of the Authority can be appealed to an Appellate Tribunal. Appeals from the Tribunal will go to the Supreme Court.
Are there any exemptions to these safeguards for processing of personal data?
Processing of personal data is exempt from the provisions of the Bill in some cases. For example, the central government can exempt any of its agencies in the interest of security of state, public order, sovereignty and integrity of India, and friendly relations with foreign states. Processing of personal data is also exempted from provisions of the Bill for certain other purposes such as prevention, investigation, or prosecution of any offence, or research and journalistic purposes. Further, personal data of individuals can be processed without their consent in certain circumstances such as: (i) if required by the State for providing benefits to the individual, (ii) legal proceedings, (iii) to respond to a medical emergency.
Is the Bill different from the draft Bill suggested by the Expert Committee?
The Bill has made several changes from the draft Bill. For instance, the Bill has added a new class of significant data fiduciaries, as social media intermediaries. These will include intermediaries (with users above a notified threshold) which enable online interaction between users. Further, the Bill has expanded the scope of exemptions for the government, and additionally provided that the government may direct data fiduciaries to provide it with any non-personal or anonymised data for better targeting of services.
In a follow-up blog, we will provide a detailed comparison of the key provisions of this Bill with the Draft Personal Data Protection Bill 2018, released by the Justice B. N. Srikrishna Committee.
On October 18, it was reported in the news that the central government has been given more time for framing rules under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. The President had given assent to this Act in December 2019 and the Act came into force in January 2020. Similarly, about two years have passed since the new labour codes were passed by Parliament, and the final Rules are yet to be published. This raises the question how long the government can take to frame Rules and what is the procedure guiding this. In this blog, we discuss the same.
Under the Constitution, the Legislature has the power to make laws and the Executive is responsible for implementing them. Often, the Legislature enacts a law covering the general principles and policies, and delegates the power to the Executive for specifying certain details for the implementation of a law. For example, the Citizenship Amendment Act provides who will be eligible for citizenship. The certificate of registration or naturalization to a person will be issued, subject to conditions, restrictions, and manner as may be prescribed by the central government through Rules. Delay in framing Rules results in delay in implementing the law, since the necessary details are not available. For example, new labour codes provide a social security scheme for gig economy workers such as Swiggy and Zomato delivery persons and Uber and Ola drivers. These benefits as per these Codes are yet to be rolled out as the Rules are yet to be notified.
Timelines and checks and balances for adherence
Each House of Parliament has a Committee of Members to examine Rules, Regulations, and government orders in detail called the Committee on Subordinate Legislation. Over the years, the recommendations of these Committees have shaped the evolution of the procedure and timelines for framing subordinate legislation. These are reflected in the Manual of Parliamentary Procedures issued by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, which provides detailed guidelines.
Ordinarily, Rules, Regulations, and bye-laws are to be framed within six months from the date on which the concerned Act came into force. Post that, the concerned Ministry is required to seek an extension from the Parliamentary Committees on Subordinate Legislation. The reason for the extension needs to be stated. Such extensions may be granted for a maximum period of three months at a time. For example, in case of Rules under the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, at an earlier instance, an extension was granted on account of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To ensure monitoring, every Ministry is required to prepare a quarterly report on the status of subordinate legislation not framed and share it with the Ministry of Law and Justice. These reports are not available in the public domain.
Recommendations to address delays
Over the years, the Subordinate Legislation Committees in both Houses have observed multiple instances of non-adherence to the above timelines by various Ministries. To address this, they have made the following key recommendations:
Are all Rules under an Act required to be framed?
Usually, the expressions used in an Act are “The Central Government may, by notification, make rules for carrying out the provisions of this Act.”, or “as may be prescribed”. Hence, it may appear that the laws aim to enable rule-making instead of mandate rule-making. However, certain provisions of an Act cannot be brought into force if the required details have not been prescribed under the Rules. This makes the implementation of the Act consequent to the publication of respective Rules. For example, the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022 enables the police and certain other persons to collect identity-related information about certain persons. It provides that the manner of collection of such information may be specified by the central government. Unless the manner is prescribed, such collection cannot take place.
That said, some other rule-making powers may be enabling in nature and subject to discretion by the concerned Ministry. In 2016, Rajya Sabha Committee on Subordinate Legislation examined the status of Rules and Regulations to be framed under the Energy Conservation Act, 2001. It observed that the Ministry of Power had held that two Rules and three Regulations under this Act were not necessary. The Ministry of Law and Justice had opined that those deemed not necessary were enabling provisions meant for unforeseen circumstances. The Rajya Sabha Committee (2016) had recommended that where the Ministry does not feel the need for framing subordinate legislation, the Minister should table a statement in Parliament, stating reasons for such a conclusion.
Some key issues related to subordinate legislation
The Legislature delegates the power to specify details for the implementation of a law to the Executive through powers for framing subordinate legislation. Hence, it is important to ensure these are well-scrutinised so that they are within the limits envisaged in the law.
See here for our recently published analysis of the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Rules, 2022, notified in September 2022. Also, check out PRS analysis of: