More than 150 citizens, including former top bureaucrats and civil rights activists, have written to Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, expressing concerns regarding the Srikrishna Committee on data protection constituted by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).
The letter has been endorsed by legal luminaries such as Prof. G. Haragopal, G. Mohan Gopal, Indira Jaising, Prashant Bhushan, and Dr. Upendra Baxi; transparency activists and members of NCPRI, including Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Anjali Bhardwaj and Amrita Johri; the first Chief Information Commissioner of India Wajahat Habibullah; as well as petitioners in the Aadhaar cases before the Supreme Court, including Kalyani Menon-Sen and Major General S. G. Vombatkere among several others.
The letter points out that the draft bill circulated by MeitY, which is now being considered by the Committee is neither available in the public domain, nor is shared under the Right to Information Act. This draft Bill has therefore been requested to be made public.
The letter goes on to make reference to another letter penned by 22 legal stalwarts and activists questioning the composition of the Committee in November last year. It now questions the inaction on the November letter, and reiterates the concerns, stating, "The lack of diversity in the composition of the Committee with respect to their opinions on key issues is glaring. It is also deeply disappointing that the Chairperson chose not to exercise his right to co-opt other members into the Committee to make it more balanced. Media reports further underline the perception that a majority of the Committee members hold similar views."
It further highlights their fundamental disagreement with the Committee's mandate as being to "ensure growth of the digital economy while keeping personal data of citizens secure and protected." It asserts that individual rights and public interest, as opposed to growth of digital economy, should be at the center of any legislation being considered for data protected. The mandate, it says, should instead have been to "ensure the protection of citizenship rights and public interest, while protecting the personal and privacy rights of the individual".
Conclusively, it points out that in 2014, a Pre-legislative Consultation Policy was adopted by the Government of India, which mandates that all draft legislations (including subordinate legislation) be placed in the public domain for 30 days for inviting public comments and a summary of comments be made available on the concerned ministry's website prior to being sent for Cabinet approval. In the same leaf, it re-emphasises on the need of public consultation in the process of law-making.
The letter summarises its requests as follows: