English: A candidate icon for Portal:Computer security (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology chaired by Mr. Rao Inderjit Singh submitted a report to the Lok Sabha yesterday on the subject of cyber crimes, cyber security and the right to privacy (2nd attachment). I had circulated a notice of this committee’s intention to examine this subject in an email alert some weeks ago. The Committee appears to have prepared its report on these very important subjects without consulting civil society. There are no names of CSOs or citizen activists in the Annexures containing minutes of the meetings held by the Committee. There is a wealth of comparative data about Internet usage (use, abuse and misuse) in this report. According to 2011 data Internet penetration in India is said to be a little over 8%. This report may be accessed on the Lok Sabha website at: http://188.8.131.52/lsscommittee/Information%20Technology/15_Information_Technology_52.pdf
The Report admonishes the Central Government for its slackness in coming up with a comprehensive right to privacy law for the country. The Committee felt the need for having a strong data protection and privacy protection law in the light of growing internet usage. cyber frauds and crimes ad particularly the collection of people’s personal data under Aadhar by the Unique Identification Authority of India. However there is no mention of the Justice A P Shah Committee report on the subject of a legal framework for a right to privacy law. Looks like neither the Department of Information technology mentioned this Planning Commission sponsored exercise nor the busy Committee members asked any questions about this report. This is what happens when only government departments are consulted by such committees without seeking civil society inputs. They are not presented with a complete [picture of the issues they examine.
The blame for the slow pace of drafting of the right to privacy law was laid at the door of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) which had floated a policy paper on the subject a couple of years ago. I think this is quite unfair as the Central Government has entrusted this subject to more than one department, namely, the DoPT, the Dept. of Information Technology and the Planning Commission. So without much coordination this important legislative exercise seems to have fallen between the stools. It is important to have one agency or ministry to coordinate the efforts to draft right to [privacy legislation in consultation with other departments, subject experts, academia, industrial and business houses, civil society, the media and the citizenry at large. This is one area where the youth must be consulted in the widest possible manner as they are the most frequent users of the Internet. However I doubt if anything will emerge before the next Parliamentary elections.
Portions of the government functionaries’ submissions have been ‘xed’ out:
There is another interesting element in this report. In several places where the text of the submissions made by government representatives is recorded, some portions have been ‘xed’ or blanked out. This implies that those portions of the submissions were not thought to be fit to be shared with the people. There is no explanation for this ‘xing’ out of portions of the submission. Now when looks at this deletion through the prism of Section 8(1) of the Right to Information Act, this also appears to be information provided to Parliament. The proviso under Section 8(1) contains the principle that information that cannot be denied to Parliament must not be denied to any citizen. The term ‘Parliament’ includes its committees as well. So when representatives of the people have had access to certain kinds of information, there must be very strong public interest grounds of denying access to the same information to citizens. However there is no justification in the report for deleting these portions.
This can be a good test case for activists. We could seek the blanked out portions by making a formal request under the RTI Act. I will try it out myself. I hope some of our readers will also try it out. The RTI query can be very simply worded as follows:
” Please provide me a copy of the complete text/transcript of the submissions both written and verbal received by the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology for the preparation of its 52nd report on the subject: “Cyber Crime, Cyber Security and Right to Privacy”.