The Editors Guild of India has voiced its apprehensions regarding specific clauses within the Digital Personal Data Protection (DPDP) Bill, stating that they could potentially lead to a detrimental effect on press freedom. The guild has expressed concerns that certain provisions in the bill could pave the way for surveillance of citizens, including journalists and their sources.
Call for Parliamentary Review
In response to these concerns, the Editors Guild has requested Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to refer the DPDP Bill to a parliamentary standing committee. Additionally, the guild has reached out to several prominent figures, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, and leaders of various political parties in the Parliament.
Digital Privacy Protection Aims
The DPDP Bill, introduced by the government and tabled in the Lok Sabha on August 3, is designed to safeguard the privacy of Indian citizens by imposing penalties on entities that misuse or fail to adequately protect digital data. This legislation comes after the Supreme Court upheld the right to privacy as a fundamental right six years prior.
Concerns Over Specific Clauses
The Editors Guild has specifically highlighted Section 36 of the DPDP Bill, which empowers the government to request personal information from public or private entities, including citizens, journalists, and their sources. Additionally, the guild has raised objections to clause 17(2)(a), which permits the Union government to issue notifications exempting “instrumentalities of the State” from the provisions of the bill, potentially allowing them to bypass data protection restrictions.
Prolonged Data Retention and Chilling Effect
The Editors Guild expressed dismay at the lack of provisions within the bill that address surveillance reform, asserting that the DPDP Bill might inadvertently enable surveillance of citizens, including journalists. The guild has also emphasized concerns regarding the extended retention of personal data allowed by Section 17(4) of the bill, and its potential impact on privacy.
Impact on Journalism
The guild has underlined the absence of exemptions for journalists in cases where their reporting on certain entities conflicts with their right to personal data protection. The Justice Srikrishna Committee, which previously proposed a framework to balance personal data protection and public interest, is seen as missing from the current bill. The Editors Guild has warned that these shortcomings could lead to a chilling effect on journalistic activities within the country.
Balancing Accountability and Non-Disclosure
The Editors Guild has also flagged certain provisions in the bill that could shift the balance towards non-disclosure of information sought by journalists in the public interest, thereby potentially reducing accountability. The composition of the Data Protection Board has raised concerns as well, with the guild stressing the importance of its independence from the government.
The government has scheduled the DPDP Bill for consideration and passage in the Lok Sabha on Monday. The concerns raised by the Editors Guild shed light on the potential implications of the bill on press freedom and journalistic activities, urging for a comprehensive review and necessary amendments to address these issues.
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