A world-wide debate is going on as people are becoming increasingly aware of the power that data possesses and how easily big tech can used it to influence millions. By listening to congressional hearings of Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai, everyone who listened has become wary of the results of data misuse.

Amid these talks, India, the world's largest democracy, is all set to "increase" privacy of its people through the "Personal Data Protection Bill." At least that is how it appears at first sight.

Giving power back to the people

The biggest powers that this bill will give Indians will be the "Right to be Forgotten" and the "Right to Erasure." As per the initial drafts, tech giants who store as little as "search queries" will have to comply if a user asks them to have their now irrelevant data completely wiped.

How does one decide if the data's purpose is now over? That is one of the biggest implementation challenges. Aside from implementation, this bill does promise to give Indians the two modern rights, a need that arose in the mid-2010s.

Independent Data Protection Authorities (DPAs) will be set up that can be approached by anyone to get their data cleaned off from various private entities' databases.

But there's a catch.

Right to exempt

There are a few "rights" that this bill proposes to give the government as well. Nothing fancy, just the right to exempt any government agency from the jurisdiction of this bill. So although the people can have their personal data cleared of Google's and Facebook's databases, but not from the government's.

The government can cite national security or public order and refuse to allow records in their databases from being deleted.

As reported by TechCrunch, Udbhav Tiwari, a public policy advisor to Mozilla Corporation, criticised the bill by saying that it would “represent new, significant threats to Indians’ privacy."

And this is still one of the lesser powers that this bill grants to the ruling party.

According to Economic Times, the bill seeks access to users' data from companies. That is, once implemented, the government can direct any data processor in the country to hand over "personal data" of its citizens (in anonymized form), and all the other "non-personal data."

The reason they cite is that this would help the ruling party in targeting and delivering better evidence-based services. Noble words to an ear which is yet to hear the stories of Orwell.

Some people find it violating when one Amazon search leads to ads popping up on various sites for days. Imagine what would happen if the government knows your social activity along with the data that they already have on you.

On first sight, the title to this article might seem like an exaggeration. It is not. Justice BN Srikrishna, the man who headed the committee which drafted the bill, said in an interview with India Times that the final version of the bill was placed in the Indian parliament on December 11, 2019, is "dangerous."

In his own words, as reported by India Times, "They have removed safeguards, this can turn India into an Orwellian state."

Coming from the drafter of the bill, now that is scary.

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