Law

Final Privacy Bill Could Turn India into ‘Orwellian State’: Justice Srikrishna

The retired judge believes that the more expansive exemptions should be removed from the final version of the Bill.

New Delhi: Justice (retired) B.N. Srikrishna, who headed the panel that formulated the first draft of India’s Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill, has criticised the final version, calling it “dangerous” and a piece of legislation that could turn the country into an “Orwellian state”.

In remarks made to the Economic Times, the retired judge noted that the Narendra Modi government had removed the safeguards present in the original draft.

“They have removed the safeguards. That is most dangerous. The government can at any time access private data or government agency data on grounds of sovereignty or public order. This has dangerous implications,” Srikrishna told the publication.

The final version of the PDP Bill that was tabled in the Lok Sabha this week, and then sent to a joint select committee, allows the Centre to exempt any government agency from the privacy rules under various grounds including anything that is “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India”

For comparison, here is what the Srikrishna committee’s draft Bill, which calls for exemptions only if backed by specific legislation, notes:

Processing of personal data in the interests of the security of the State shall not be permitted unless it is authorised pursuant to a law, and is in accordance with the procedure established by such law, made by Parliament and is necessary for, and proportionate to, such interests being achieved.

Processing of personal data in the interests of prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of any offence or any other contravention of law shall not be permitted unless 26 it is authorised by a law made by Parliament and State Legislature and is necessary for, and proportionate to, such interests being achieved. [Emphasis added].

And here is what the final version of the bill says on the matter:

Where the Central Government is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient,— (i) in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order; or (ii) for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, it may, by order, for reasons to be recorded in writing, direct that all or any of the provisions of this Act shall not apply to any agency of the Government in respect of processing of such personal data, as may be specified in the order subject to such procedure, safeguards and oversight mechanism to be followed by the agency, as may be prescribed. [Emphasis added by The Wire].

Srikrishna believes that the more expansive exemptions, which experts say may not be in accordance with the Supreme Court’s judgment on the right to privacy, should be removed.

“The Select Committee has the right to change this. If they call me, I will tell them this is nonsense. I believe there should be judicial oversight on government access,” the retired judge said. 

“It will weaken the Bill and turn India into an Orwellian State.”