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Indian government urged to listen to more voices on data protection, ministry requests surveillance funds

Billions sought for real-time capabilities
Indian government urged to listen to more voices on data protection, ministry requests surveillance funds

India’s government is considering legislation for protecting personal data, including biometric information, but a civil society group says its consultations on the proposal are not open enough.

The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) is urging India’s Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) considering the country’s Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill 2019 to widen participation in its proceedings and hear a wide range of independent voices, NewsClick reports.

The committee was originally supposed to present its findings on the bill, which was introduced late in 2019, during the recent Budget Session, but it has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill establishes special categories for various types of potentially sensitive data, including biometrics.

A predecessor to the current bill was tabled in 2018, and commented on by Committee on Data Protection. The report issued by that committee was criticized, and according to NewsClick, changes to the 2018 bill and the comments on it were not made public by the Ministry for Electronics and IT. The legislation could significantly impact the National Population Register, which the digital rights advocacy group says does not follow the data protection principles, despite including biometrics information.

IFF is also is concerned that greater diversity of comments is necessary to address various issues and loopholes the bill contains, according to its letter to JOC Chairperson Meenakshi Lekhi.

India’s Home Ministry, meanwhile, is asking for 500 billion rupees (US$6.66 billion) for capital expenditures, largely to stand up real-time surveillance and intelligence gathering technologies, according to the Economic Times.

The proposed National Internal Security Fund would address the shared responsibility of the federal and state government for domestic security, the ministry says in a letter to the finance commission. The ministry has said that state and union territory governments owe roughly the requested amount to the central government for the deployment of paramilitary forces, and those payments could be used to launch the fund.

The finance commission has recommended a grant to the Home Ministry for housing and training police, but the ministry has requested funding for technology, including real-time reconnaissance and intelligence collection.

The National Crime Records Bureau had spent 16.8 billion rupees ($228.7 million) on its Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System, which is planned to include an automatic facial recognition system, by December 2019. The tender for the biometric technology has not yet been issued, however, as the bid deadline has been pushed back no less than 10 times.

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