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India passes data protection legislation in Parliament, critics fear privacy violation

NEW DELHI (AP) – Indian lawmakers on Wednesday approved a data protection legislation that “seeks to better regulate big tech firms and penalise companies for data breaches” as several groups expressed concern over citizens’ privacy rights.

The legislation will limit cross-border transfer of data and provide a framework for setting up a data protection authority to ensure compliance from tech companies, Information Technology and Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said.

Several opposition lawmakers and digital experts said the legislation would allow the government and its agencies to access user data from companies and personal data of individuals without their consent as well as collect private data.

Digital experts also fear that the legislation will weaken the landmark Right To Information law – passed in 2005 – that allows citizens to seek data from public officers, such as salaries of state employees.

“It jeopardises privacy, grants excessive exemptions to the government, and fails to establish an independent regulator,” digital rights group Access Now said in a statement.

The upper house of Parliament passed the Digital Personal Data Protection bill which would later be signed by the country’s ceremonial president, a formality, before becoming law. It was passed by the lower house on Monday.

The legislation is the government’s third attempt to pass such legislation and comes nearly six years after India’s top court ruled that privacy is a fundamental right of every citizen.

Proponents said a data protection law is necessary for India where financial fraud and data leaks are rampant, adding that it could act to protect people’s information from commercial and political exploits.

A statue of Mahatma Gandhi sits near the Parliament house building in New Delhi, India. PHOTO: AP