Five opposition members of the parliamentary committee reviewing the data protection bill have filed dissent notes in the panel’s final report citing a failure to quantify penalties and “unbridled” exemptions for government agencies among causes of concern.

The Congress’s Jairam Ramesh, Manish Tewari, and Gaurav Gogoi, and Trinamool Congress’ (TMC’s) Derek O’Brien and Mahua Moitra also highlighted the bill’s lack of oversight and absence of state-level data protection authorities (DPAs).

They filed the dissent notes with committee chairperson P.P. Chaudhury on Monday after the 30-member panel adopted the report ahead of Parliament’s winter session beginning next week, people aware of the matter said. The report will be tabled before Parliament in the upcoming session for discussions.

Tewari has objected to the entirety of the Bill in its present form. In a 10-page dissent note, reviewed by HT, he said there is an “inherent design flaw” in the very construction of the bill.

“The bill as it stands creates two parallel universes—one for the private sector where it would apply with full rigor and one for government where it is riddled with exemptions, carve outs and escape clauses. In my limited experience of three decades as a litigator, I have always been taught and made to appreciate that a Fundamental Right is principally enforceable against the state. A bill that seeks therefore to provide blanket exemptions either in perpetuity or even for a limited period to the ‘State’ and its instrumentalities, in my estimation is ultra vires of the Fundamental Right to Privacy as laid down by a 9-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India in Re Puttuswamy (2017) 10 SCC 1,” the legislator argued.

He also opposed age-gating of child-friendly online resources and asked for social media firms to mandatorily verify all its users and subscribers, failing which they should be fined between 3-5% of their global turnover. He added that critical personal data should be decided by the DPA, and not the government.

Ramesh contested the exemptions to the government under Section 35 of the bill. He argued the section provides unbridled power to exempt any of the government agencies from the proposed law.

Gogoi noted the report has failed to “quantify penalties under the framework”.

O’Brien and Mitra said the process of consensus-building on the report has been “rushed”, slamming the final draft for a “lack of adequate safeguards for the protection of the privacy of the data principal”. They also raised concerns regarding the selection of the DPA chairperson, and said it has a “heavy involvement of the central government”.

The people familiar with the matter said Biju Janata Dal MP Amar Patnaik is also likely to object to a lack of inclusion of state-level DPAs in the bill. The governments of Karnataka and Maharashtra sought this during the meetings of their representatives with the committee.

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