More control to users: PDP Bill may offer digital consent option

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Indian Express, June 13, 2021

The Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill, which is currently being deliberated upon by a select committee of the Parliament, is likely to introduce the concept of “digitally enabled consent” for personal data storage and management in real time, sources in the know of the matter said.

Digitally enabled consent or electronic consent framework gives users or data and content generators the option to grant and withdraw consent of their data usage in real time, instead of the one-time consent methodology currently in use.

The framework would also ensure that complete control over the ways in which the data will be used and processed by companies always remains with the user.

In a discussion paper on the technology specifications for electronic consent framework, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Tech (MeitY) had suggested that any company which intends to collect data must always ensure that the “scope of data sharing and purpose” is clearly and unequivocally shared with the user.

“Once the user agrees to the scope of sharing, he/she may be requested to sign the consent digitally, in which case the resulting artifact would contain the user’s digital signature,” the discussion paper had noted.

The PDP Bill, first proposed by the government in 2018, has been pending for close to three years now. It has seen several changes to the original draft drawn by retired Supreme Court judge Justice B N Srikrishna, who also said that the revised Bill was “a blank cheque to the state”.

The latest version of the Bill, in complete contrast to the earlier 2018 draft, says that a committee for selection of Data Protection Authority (DPA) will include the Cabinet Secretary, the Law Secretary and the IT Secretary.

The latest version of the draft bill, said to contain about 98 clauses, was referred to the select committee headed by Meenakshi Lekhi in December 2019 and has had over 66 sittings till date.

Officials from the ministries of IT, Law and Home Affairs, the Unique Identification Authority of India, the National Investigation Agency, the Narcotics Control Bureau and the Reserve Bank of India, among others have deposed before the panel.

From the private sector, executives from MasterCard India, Visa, Paytm, Google India, Facebook India, Twitter India, Amazon Web Services as well as Amazon India, among others have appeared and made their submissions to the panel.

Google’s representatives had, in their meeting with the select parliamentary committee, said that India should avoid data localisation requirements, which had irked the members of the committee, while Paytm had said data generated in India should be parked in the country.

Cab aggregators such as Ola and Uber, whose representatives had also appeared before parliamentary panel, supported data localisation norms. On the other hand, tech policy groups and civil societies had, without much success, sought wider consultations on the PDP Bill.

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