Former judges of the Supreme Court and high courts, former information commissioners, prominent civil society members, retired officers of the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Police Service have endorsed a letter to various MPs seeking larger public consultation over the proposed Digital Personal Data Protection Bill (DPDPB), 2022.
The consultative process for DPDPB, or the Data Protection Bill, should be "transparent, open and inclusive" in the line with Pre-Legislative Consultative Policy, 2014, the letter said.
The feedback from citizens not being disclosed with the government saying that they have been shared in fiduciary capacity with the government is “undemocratic”, the letter said.
The letter by former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi is endorsed by Justices AP Shah and AK Patnaik, former judges of Supreme Court, Justice K Chandru, former judge, Madras High Court, Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Central Information Commissioner, Sridhar Acharyulu former Information Commissioner, noted activist Aruna Roy, and Alok Perti and Amitabha Pande retired IAS officers, among others.
It seeks extension of time to give feedback with the proposed bill being widely publicized in media and in multiple Indian languages and not just in English, which is the case at present.
The letter calls the process of feedback "convoluted" and difficult and seeks simpler ways to provide feedback that are not just digital in nature and allows for only chapter wise feedback. It goes on to criticise the consultative process for being secretive as the submissions invited from the public will not be disclosed in the public domain.
The draft bill seeks to create a legal framework for the governing of personal digital data in India and contains several problematic formulations within it that fail to protect the right to privacy of individuals and seriously undermine transparency and accountability, the letter said. The proposed bill could also restrict public disclosure mandated by various welfare laws and schemes, it contended.
Activists and information commissioners were worried that Section 8 (1) (j) of the RTI Act, which allows disclosure of personal information in the interest of transparency and which was settled after deliberations in law, will be removed.
The section has a provision that information that cannot be denied to Parliament or other legislature cannot be denied to citizens in case of public interest. Once removed, citizens say it will allow officers the option of not providing information.
"According to us it is a mortal battle. If this amendment goes through, the RTI Act for all practical purposes is finished. It will become right to deny. In 95 per cent of the cases, the public information officers will deny information if they do not want to give it. Therefore, it is necessary thatcitizens and the media persuade the government and more importantly MPs who represent our views to the government, to not go ahead with this. It is important that the media also write editorials on this topic. It is very necessary," said Gandhi.
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