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India’s data protection bill passes lower house of Parliament, raises privacy concerns

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India’s data protection bill passes lower house of Parliament, raises privacy concerns

India’s Digital Personal Data Protection Bill of 2023 passed in the lower house of Parliament and will now face the higher house before it becomes law, according to The Indian Express. The bill as currently written raises privacy concerns as the ever-broader implementation of Aadhaar digital IDs gives the national government control over more of its citizens’ data.

The bill would exempt “any instrumentality of the state” from negative consequences, citing national security and maintaining public order as justifications. This means that the government would be able to use facial recognition to build surveillance systems, suggests Srinivas Kodali, a digitization researcher and self-described “hacktivist” in an opinion piece for The Wire.

Some worry that this law could dilute the Right to Information (RTI) Act. As the law stands now, the central government will maintain control in appointing members to the Data Protection Board – the board that would manage grievances and disputes related to privacy.

Employers would also be able to collect biometrics of employees. Government employees must share their face biometrics and are monitored by surveillance systems while they work. Sanitation workers are already struggling to cope with mass surveillance through GPS tracking smart watches with cameras that can be turned on at any moment.

Under the data protection bill, the national government would be able to process citizens’ data without their express consent. Private companies would be required to obtain consent from their customers or users before processing their personal data, but exceptions are made for “legitimate uses.”

The data protection bill’s approval by the Lok Sabha follows the higher legislature passing the Registration of Births and Deaths Amendment Bill this week. The latter bill digitizes the registration of births and deaths and allows Indians to obtain driver’s licenses, register to vote, sign up for an Aadhaar number, and more with only a birth certificate, according to NDTV.

“Indians will be forced to part with their personal information from birth to death,” argues Kodali.

The government argues that national and state-level databases of births and deaths will improve the delivery of social services and benefits.

An attempt by India’s government to pass a similar data protection bill was withdrawn last year.

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