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New data protection bill to be introduced in Monsoon session of Parliament: Centre tells SC

The Centre told the Supreme Court on Tuesday a new data protection bill is ready and will be introduced in the Monsoon session of Parliament in July, as the apex court heard a matter related to privacy concerns of social media users.

Attorney General R Venkataramani told a Constitution bench headed by Justice KM Joseph the bill will address all the concerns raised in the present petitions.

The Monsoon session of Parliament commences in July and extends up to August each year.

The bench, also comprising justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy, and C T Ravikumar took note of the submission and rected that the matter be placed before Chief Justice DY Chandrachud so that a new bench can be constituted as Justice Joseph is set to retire on June 16. The matter has been posted for hearing in the first week of August 2023.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the petitioners, submitted the court should not link the court hearings to the legislative process as the court was told on three previous occasions that the bill on data protection is likely to be passed.

The legislative process is complex and the may be referred to some committees, he said.

Countering Divan’s argument, Venkataramani said consultation is a continuous process and the bill has gone through a “very qualified consultation process.” “Don’t say we are taking time. We want a good law to come,” Venkataramani asserted.

The apex court said in its order, “We take note of the submission of the Attorney General that a bill which addresses all the concerns will be tabled in the Monsoon session of the Parliament commencing July 2023. Considering the circumstances, we request the Registry to place the matter before the Chief Justice so that a bench can be constituted.” The apex court was hearing a plea filed by two students — Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi — challenging the contract between WhatsApp and its parent Facebook to provide access to calls, photographs, texts, videos and documents shared by users, calling it a violation of their privacy and right to free speech.

The top court had on February 1 directed WhatsApp to widely publicise its undertaking given to the Centre that it will not limit functionality for users not agreeing to its 2021 privacy policy but will continue to remind users about the update, and maintain this approach till the proposed data protection law comes into effect.

In a letter to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on May 22, 2021, WhatsApp had assured the government that the privacy of users remains its highest priority.

Observing that the matter needs consideration, the Constitution bench had asked the mobile messaging app to publish advertisements in five newspapers publicising its 2021 undertaking given to the government.

The apex court had earlier said it will examine whether it should consider now the plea challenging WhatsApp’s policy to share users’ data with parent company Facebook and others or will it be a mere “academic” exercise, after the Centre submitted it was going to bring a data protection bill in the Budget session.

It had observed that there was no harm in waiting for the bill to be tabled as “heavens are not going to fall in the meanwhile”. PTI

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