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Comments on the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011

Posted by Bhairav Acharya at Mar 31, 2013 02:45 PM |
Bhairav Acharya on behalf of the Centre for Internet and Society prepared the following comments on the Sensitive Personal Data Rules. These were submitted to the Committee on Subordinate Legislation of the 15th Lok Sabha.

This research was undertaken as part of the 'SAFEGUARDS' project that CIS is undertaking with Privacy International and IDRC.


I Preliminary

1.1  The Centre for Internet and Society (“CIS”) is pleased to present this submission on the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011 that were notified by the Central Government in the Gazette of India vide Notification GSR 313(E) on 11 April 2011 (“Sensitive Personal Data Rules” or “Rules”) to the Committee on Subordinate Legislation of the Fifteenth Lok Sabha.

1.2 The protection of personal information lies at the heart of the right to privacy; and, for this reason, it is an imperative legislative and policy concern in liberal democracies around the world. In India, although remedies for invasions of privacy exist in tort law and despite the Supreme Court of India according limited constitutional recognition to the right to privacy[1], there have never been codified provisions protecting the privacy of individuals and their personal information.

The Sensitive Personal Data Rules represent India’s first legislative attempt to recognise that all persons have a right to protect the privacy of their personal information. However, the Rules suffer from numerous conceptual, substantive and procedural weaknesses, including drafting defects, which demand scrutiny and rectification. The interpretation and applicability of the Rules was further confused when, on 24 August 2011, the Department of Information Technology of the Ministry of Communications attempted to reinterpret the Rules through a press release oblivious to the universally accepted basic proposition that law cannot be made or reinterpreted via press releases.[2] Therefore, the attention of the Committee on Subordinate Legislation of the Fifteenth Lok Sabha is called to the following submissions:

II Principles to Facilitate Appraisal
2.1  The Sensitive Personal Data Rules are an important step towards building a legal regime that protects the privacy of individuals whilst enabling the secure collection, use and storage of personal information by state and private entities. The Rules are to be welcomed in principle. However, at present, the Rules construct an incomplete regime that does not adequately protect privacy and, for this reason, falls short of internationally accepted data protection standards.[3]

This not only harms the personal liberties of Indian citizens, it also affects the ability of Indian companies to conduct commerce in foreign countries. More importantly, the Rules offer no protection against the state.

2.2  To enact a comprehensive personal information protection regime, CIS believes that the Rules should proceed on the basis of the following broad principles:

(a)   Principle of Notice / Prior Knowledge

All persons from whom personal information is collected have a right to know, before the personal information is collected and, where applicable, at any point thereafter: (i) of an impending collection of personal information; (ii) the content and nature of the personal information being collected; (iii) the purpose for which the personal information is being collected; (iv) the broad identities of all natural and juristic persons who will have access to the collected personal information; (v) the manner in which the collected personal information will be used; (vi) the duration for which the collected personal information will be stored; (vii) whether the collected personal information will be disclosed to third parties including the police and other law enforcement agencies; (viii) of the manner in which they may access, check, modify or withdraw their collected personal information; (ix) the security practices and safeguards that will govern the sanctity of the collected personal information; (x) of all privacy policies and other policies in relation to the collected personal information; (xi) of any breaches in the security, safety, privacy and sanctity of the collected personal information; and, (xii) the procedure for recourse, including identities and contact details of ombudsmen and grievance redress officers, in relation to any misuse of the collected personal information.

(b)    Principle of Consent

Personal information must only be collected once the person to whom it pertains has consented to its collection. Such consent must be informed, explicit and freely given. Informed consent is conditional upon the fulfilment of the principle of notice/prior knowledge set out in the preceding paragraph. Consent must be expressly given: the person to whom the personal information to be collected pertains must grant explicit and affirmative permission to collect personal information; and, he must know, or be made aware, of any action of his that will constitute such consent. Consent that is obtained using threats or coercion, such as a threat of refusal to provide services, does not constitute valid consent. Any person whose personal information has been consensually collected may, at any time, withdraw such consent for any or no reason and, consequently, his personal information, including his identity, must be destroyed. When consent is withdrawn in this manner, the person who withdrew consent may be denied any service that requires the use of the personal information for which consent was withdrawn.

(c)  Principle of Necessity / Collection Limitation

Personal information must only be collected when, where and to the extent necessary. Necessity cannot be established in general; there must be a specific nexus connecting the content of the personal information to the purpose of its collection. Only the minimal amount of personal information necessary to achieve the purpose should be collected. If a purpose exists that warrants a temporally specific, or an event-dependent, collection of personal information, such a collection must only take place when that specific time is reached or that event occurs. If the purpose of personal information is dependent upon, or specific to, a geographical area or location, that personal information must only be collected from that geographical area or location.

(d)  Right to be Forgotten / Principle of Purpose Limitation

Once collected, personal information must be processed, used, stored or otherwise only for the purpose for which it was collected. If the purpose for which personal information was collected is achieved, the collected personal information must be destroyed and the person to whom that personal information pertained must be ‘forgotten.’ Similarly, collected personal information must be destroyed and the person to whom it pertained ‘forgotten’ if the purpose for which it was collected expires or ceases to exist. Personal information collected for a certain purpose cannot be used or stored for another purpose nor even used or stored for a similar purpose to arise in the future without the express and informed consent of the person from whom it was collected in accordance with the principles of notice/prior knowledge and consent.

(e)    Right of Access

All persons from whom personal information is collected have a right to access that personal information at any point following its collection to check its accuracy, make corrections or modifications and have destroyed that which is inaccurate. Where personal information of more than one person is held in an aggregated form such that affording one person access to it may endanger the right to privacy of another person, the entity holding the aggregated personal information must, to the best of its ability, identify the portion of the personal information that pertains to the person seeking access and make it available to him. All persons from whom personal information is collected must be given copies of their personal information upon request.

(f)   Principle­ regarding Disclosure

Personal information, once collected, must never be disclosed. However, if the person to whom certain personal information pertains consents to its disclosure in accordance with the principle of consent after he has been made aware of the proposed disclosee and other details related to the personal information in accordance with the principle of notice/prior knowledge, the personal information may be disclosed. Consent to a disclosure of this nature may be obtained even during collection of the personal information if the person to whom it pertains expressly consents to its future disclosure. Notwithstanding the rule against disclosure and the consent exception to the rule, personal information may be disclosed to the police or other law enforcement agencies on certain absolute conditions. Since the protection of personal information is a policy imperative, the conditions permitting its disclosure must be founded on a clear and serious law enforcement need that overrides the right to privacy; and, in addition, the disclosure conditions must be strict, construed narrowly and, in the event of ambiguity, interpreted to favour the individual right to privacy. Therefore, (i) there must be a demonstrable need to access personal information in connection with a criminal offence; (ii) only that amount of personal information that is sufficient to satisfy the need must be disclosed; and, (iii), since such a disclosure is non-consensual, it must follow a minimal due process regime that at least immediately notifies the person concerned and affords him the right to protest the disclosure.

(g)  Principle of Security

All personal information must be protected to absolutely maintain its sanctity, confidentiality and privacy by implementing safeguards against loss, unauthorised access, destruction, use, processing, storage, modification, de-anonymisation, unauthorised disclosure and other risks. Such a level of protection must include physical, administrative and technical safeguards that are constantly and consistently audited. Protection measures must be revised to incorporate stronger measures and mechanisms as and when they arise.

(h) Principle of Transparency / ‘Open-ness’

All practices, procedures and policies governing personal information must be made available to the person to whom that personal information pertains in a simple and easy-to-understand manner. This includes policies relating to the privacy, security and disclosure of that personal information. If an entity that seeks to collect personal information does not have these policies, it must immediately draft, publish and display such policies in addition to making them available to the person from whom it seeks to collect personal information before the collection can begin.

(i)  Principle of Accountability

Liability attaches to the possession of personal information of another person. Since rights and duties, such as those in relation to privacy of personal information, are predicated on accountability, this principle binds all entities that seek to possess personal information of another person. As a result, an entity seeking to collect, use, process, store or disclose personal information of another person is accountable to that person for complying with all these principles as well as the provisions of any law. The misuse of personal information causes harm to the person to whom it pertains to attract and civil and criminal penalties.

2.3 These principles are reflective of internationally accepted best practices to form the basis upon which Indian legislation to protect personal information should be drafted. The Sensitive Personal Data Rules, in their current form, fall far short of the achieving the substantive intent of these principles. CIS submits that either (i) the Sensitive Personal Data Rules should be replaced with new and comprehensive legislation that speaks to the objectives and purpose of these principles, or (ii) the Sensitive Personal Data Rules are radically modified by amendment to bring Indian law to par with world standards. Nevertheless, without prejudice to the preceding submission, CIS offers the following clause-by-clause comments on the Sensitive Personal Data Rules:

III Clause-by-Clause Analysis and Comments

Rule 2 - Definitions

3.1.1    Rule 2(1)(b) of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules defines “biometrics” as follows:

"Biometrics" means the technologies that measure and analyse human body characteristics, such as 'fingerprints', 'eye retinas and irises', 'voice patterns', "facial patterns', 'hand measurements' and 'DNA' for authentication purposes.

3.1.2   Firstly, the Sensitive Personal Data Rules do not use the term “biometrics.” Instead, rule 3(vi), which defines sensitive personal data, uses the term “biometric information.” It is unclear why rule 2(1)(b) provides a definition of the technologies by which information is obtained instead of clearly identify the information that constitutes sensitive personal data. This is one of several examples of poor drafting of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules. Secondly, biometric information is not used only for authentication; there are many other reasons for collecting and using biometric information. For instance, DNA is widely collected and used for medical research. Restricting the application of the definition to only that biometric information that is used for authentication is illogical to deprive the Rules of meaning.

3.1.3    Therefore, it is proposed that rule 2(1)(b) be re-drafted to read as follows:

““Biometric information” means any information relating to the physical, physiological or behavioural characteristics of an individual which enable their unique identification including, but not limited to, fingerprints, retinas, irises, voice patterns, facial patterns, Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and genetic information.”

3.2.1  Rule 2(1)(c) of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules defines “body corporate” in accordance with the definition provided in clause (i) of the Explanation to section 43A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (“IT Act”) as follows:

“body corporate” means any company and includes a firm, sole proprietorship or other association of individuals engaged in commercial or professional activities.

3.2.2 Firstly, this definition of a body corporate is poorly drafted to extend beyond incorporated entities to bring within its ambit even unincorporated professional organisations such as societies and associations which, by their very nature, are not bodies corporate.[4]

This is an arbitrary reinterpretation of the fundamental principles of company law. As it presently stands, this peculiar definition will extend to public and private limited companies, including incorporated public sector undertakings, ordinary and limited liability partnerships, firms, sole proprietorships, societies and associations; but, will exclude public and private trusts[5] and unincorporated public authorities. Hence, whereas non-governmental organisations that are organised as societies will fall within the definition of “body corporate,” those that are organised as trusts will not. Similarly, incorporated public authorities such as Delhi Transport Corporation and even municipal corporations such as the Municipal Corporation of Delhi will fall within the definition of “body corporate” but unincorporated public authorities such as the New Delhi Municipal Council and the Delhi Development Authority will not. This is a prima facie violation of the fundamental right of all persons to be treated equally under the law guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

3.2.3  Secondly, whereas state entities and public authorities often collect and use sensitive personal data, with the exception of state corporations the Sensitive Personal Data Rules do not apply to the state. This means that the procedural safeguards offered by the Rules do not bind the police and other law enforcement agencies allowing them a virtually unfettered right to collect and use, even misuse, sensitive personal data without consequence. Further, state entities such as the Unique Identification Authority of India or the various State Housing Boards which collect, handle, process, use and store sensitive personal data are not covered by the Rules and remain unregulated. It is not possible to include these unincorporated entities within the definition of a body corporate; but, in pursuance of the principles set out in paragraph 2.2 of this submission, the Rules should be expanded to all state entities, whether incorporated or not.

3.2.4  Therefore, it is proposed that rule 2(1)(c) be re-drafted to read as follows:

““body corporate” means the body corporate defined in sub-section (7) of section 2 read with section 3 of the Companies Act, 1956 (1 of 1956) and includes those entities which the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify in this behalf but shall not include societies registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 (21 of 1860), trusts created under the Indian Trusts Act, 1882 (2 of 1882) or any other association of individuals that is not a legal entity apart from the members constituting it and which does not enjoy perpetual succession.”

Further, it is proposed that the Sensitive Personal Data Rules be re-drafted to apply to societies registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 and trusts created under the Indian Trusts Act, 1882 in a manner reflective of their distinctiveness from bodies corporate.

Furthermore, it is proposed that the Sensitive Personal Data Rules be re-drafted to apply to public authorities and the state as defined in Article 12 of the Constitution of India.

3.3.1  Rule 2(1)(d) of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules defines “cyber incidents” as follows:

"Cyber incidents" means any real or suspected adverse event in relation to cyber security that violates an explicitly or implicitly applicable security policy resulting in unauthorised access, denial of service or disruption, unauthorised use of a computer resource for processing or storage of information or changes to data, information without authorisation.

3.3.2  Before examining the provisions of this clause, CIS questions the need for this definition. The term “cyber incidents” is used only once in these rules: the proviso to rule 6(1) which specifies the conditions upon which personal information or sensitive personal data may be disclosed to the police or other law enforcement authorities without the prior consent of the person to whom the information pertains. An analysis of rule 6(1) is contained at paragraphs 3.11.1 – 3.11.4 of this submission. Firstly, personal information and sensitive personal data should only be disclosed in connection with the prevention, investigation and prosecution of an existing offence. Offences cannot be created in the definitions clause of sub-statutory rules, they can only be created by a parent statute or another statute. Secondly, the scope and content of “cyber incidents” are already covered by section 43 of the IT Act. When read with section 66 of IT Act, an offence is created that is larger than the scope of the term “cyber incidents” to render this definition redundant.

3.3.3   Therefore, it is proposed that the definition of “cyber incidents” in rule 2(1)(d) be deleted and the remaining clauses in sub-rule (1) of rule 2 be accordingly renumbered.

3.4.1  Rule 2(1)(g) of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules defines “intermediary” in accordance with the definition provided in section 2(1)(w) of the IT Act. However, the term “intermediary” is not used anywhere in the Sensitive Personal Data Rules and so its definition is redundant. This is another instance of careless drafting of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules.

3.4.2   Therefore, it is proposed that the definition of “intermediary” in rule 2(1)(g) be deleted and the remaining clauses in sub-rule (1) of rule 2 be accordingly renumbered.

Rule 3 - Sensitive Personal Data

3.5.1    Rule 3 of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules provides an aggregated definition of sensitive personal data as follows:

Sensitive personal data or information of a person means such personal information which consists of information relating to –

(i)   password;

(ii)  financial information such as Bank account or credit card or debit card or other payment instrument details ;

(iii) physical, physiological and mental health condition;

(iv) sexual orientation;

(v)  medical records and history;

(vi) Biometric information;

(vii) any detail relating to the above clauses as provided to body corporate for providing service; and

(viii) any of the information received under above clauses by body corporate for processing, stored or processed under lawful contract or otherwise:

provided that, any information that is freely available or accessible in public domain or furnished under the Right to Information Act, 2005 or any other law for the time being in force shall not be regarded as sensitive personal data or information for the purposes of these rules.

3.5.2    In accordance with the principle that certain kinds of personal information are particularly sensitive, due to the intimate nature of their content in relation to the right to privacy, to invite privileged protective measures regarding the collection, handling, processing, use and storage of such sensitive personal data, it is surprising that rule 3 does not protect electronic communication records of individuals. Emails and chat logs as well as records of internet activity such as online search histories are particularly vulnerable to abuse and misuse and should be accorded privileged protection.

3.5.3    Therefore, it is proposed that rule 3 be re-drafted to read as follows:

“Sensitive personal data or information of a person means personal information as to that person’s –

(i)  passwords and encryption keys;

(ii)  financial information including, but not limited to, information relating to his bank accounts, credit cards, debit cards, negotiable instruments, debt and other payment details;

(iii) physical, physiological and mental condition;

(iv)  sexual activity and sexual orientation;

(v)   medical records and history;

(vi)  biometric information; and

(vii) electronic communication records including, but not limited to, emails, chat logs and other communications made using a computer;

and shall include any data or information related to the sensitive personal data or information set out in this rule that is provided to, or received by, a body corporate.

Provided that, any information that is freely available or accessible in the public domain or furnished under the Right to Information Act, 2005 or any other law for the time being in force shall not be regarded as sensitive personal data or information for the purposes of these rules.”

Rule 4 - Privacy and Disclosure Policy

3.6.1    Rule 4 of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules, which obligates certain bodies corporate to publish privacy and disclosure policies for personal information, states:

Body corporate to provide policy for privacy and disclosure of information. – (1) The body corporate or any person who on behalf of body corporate collects, receives, possess, stores, deals or handle information of provider of information, shall provide a privacy policy for handling of or dealing in personal information including sensitive personal data or information and ensure that the same are available for view by such providers of information who has provided such information under lawful contract. Such policy shall be published on website of body corporate or any person on its behalf and shall provide for –

(i)  Clear and easily accessible statements of its practices and policies;

(ii) type of personal or sensitive personal data or information collected under rule 3;

(iii) purpose of collection and usage of such information;

(iv) disclosure of information including sensitive personal data or information as provided in rule 6;

(v)  reasonable security practices and procedures as provided under rule 8.

3.6.2  This rule is very badly drafted, contains several discrepancies and is legally imprecise. Firstly, this rule is overbroad to bind all bodies corporate that receive and use information, as opposed to “personal information” or “sensitive personal data.” All bodies corporate receive and use information, even a vegetable seller uses information relating to vegetables and prices; but, not all bodies corporate receive and use personal information and even fewer bodies corporate receive and use sensitive personal data. The application of this provision should turn on the reception and use of personal information, which includes sensitive personal data, and not simply information. Secondly, although this rule only applies when a provider of information provides information, the term “provider of information” is undefined. It may mean any single individual who gives his personal information to a body corporate, or it may even mean another entity that outsources or subcontracts work that involves the handling of personal information. This lack of clarity compromises the enforceability of this rule. The government’s press release of 24 August 2011 acknowledged this error but since it is impossible, not to mention unconstitutional, for a statutory instrument like these Rules to be amended, modified, interpreted or clarified by a press release, CIS is inclined to ignore the press release altogether. It is illogical that privacy policies not be required when personal information is directly given by a single individual. This rule should bind all bodies corporate that receive and use personal information irrespective of the source of the personal information. Thirdly, it is unclear whether separate privacy policies are required for personal information and for sensitive personal data. There is a distinction between personal information and sensitive personal data and since these Sensitive Personal Data Rules deal with the protection of sensitive personal data, this rule 4 should unambiguously mandate the publishing of privacy policies in relation to sensitive personal data. Any additional requirement for personal information must be set out to clearly mark its difference from sensitive personal data. Fourthly, because of sloppy drafting, the publishing duties of the body corporate in respect of any sensitive personal data are unclear. For example, the phrase “personal or sensitive personal data or information” used in clause (ii) is meaningless since “personal information” and “sensitive personal data or information” are defined terms.

3.6.3  Therefore, it is proposed that rule 3 be re-drafted to read as follows:

Duty to publish certain policies. – (1) Any body corporate that collects, receives, possesses, stores, deals with or handles personal information or sensitive personal data from any source whatsoever shall, prior to collecting, receiving, possessing, storing, dealing with or handling such personal information or sensitive personal data, publish and prominently display the policies listed in sub-rule (2) in relation to such personal information and sensitive personal data.

(2) In accordance with sub-rule (1) of this rule, all bodies corporate shall publish separate policies for personal information and sensitive personal data that clearly state –

(i) the meanings of personal information and sensitive personal data in accordance with these rules;

(ii) the practices and policies of that body corporate in relation to personal information and sensitive personal data;

(iii) descriptive details of the nature and type of personal information and sensitive personal data collected, received, possessed, stored or handled by that body corporate;

(iv) the purpose for which such personal information and sensitive personal data is collected, received, possessed, stored or handled by that body corporate;

(v) the manner and conditions upon which such personal information and sensitive personal data may be disclosed in accordance with rule 6 of these rules; and

(vi) the reasonable security practices and procedures governing such personal information and sensitive personal data in accordance with rule 8 of these rules.”

Rule 5 - Collection of Information

3.7.1    Rule 5(1) of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules lays down the requirement of consent before personal information can be collected as follows:

Body corporate or any person on its behalf shall obtain consent in writing through letter or Fax or email from the provider of the sensitive personal data or information regarding purpose of usage before collection of such information.

3.7.2 Firstly, the principle and requirement of consent is of overriding importance when collecting personal information, which includes sensitive personal data. Pursuant to the principles laid down in paragraph 2.2 of this submission, consent must be informed, explicit and freely given. Since sub-rule (3) of rule 5 attempts to secure the informed consent of persons giving personal information, this sub-rule must establish that all personal information can only be collected upon explicit consent that is freely given, irrespective of the medium and manner in which it is given. Secondly, it may be noted that sub-rule (1) only applies to sensitive personal data and not to other personal information that is not sensitive personal data. This is ill advised.  Thirdly, this sub-rule relating to actual collection of personal information should follow a provision establishing the principle of necessity before collection can begin. The principle of necessity is currently laid down in sub-rule (2) of rule 5 which should be re-numbered to precede this sub-rule relating to collection.

3.7.3   Therefore, it is proposed that rule 5(1) be re-numbered to sub-rule (2) of rule 5 and re-drafted to read as follows:

“A body corporate seeking to collect personal information or sensitive personal data of a person shall, prior to collecting that personal information or sensitive personal data, obtain the express and informed consent of that person in any manner, and through any medium, that may be convenient but shall not obtain such consent through threat, duress or coercion.”

3.8.1    Rule 5(2) of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules sets out the principle of necessity governing the collection of personal information as follows:

Body corporate or any person on its behalf shall not collect sensitive personal data or information unless —

(a)  the information is collected for a lawful purpose connected with a function or activity of the body corporate or any person on its behalf; and

(b) the collection of the sensitive personal data or information is considered necessary for that purpose.

3.8.2    Firstly, before allowing a body corporate to collect personal information, which includes sensitive personal data, the law should strictly ensure that the collection of such personal information is necessary. Necessity cannot be established in general, there must be a nexus connecting the personal information to the purpose for which the personal information is sought to be collected. This important sub-rule sets out the principles upon which personal information can be collected; and, should therefore be the first sub-rule of rule 5. Secondly, this sub-rule only applies to sensitive personal data instead of all personal information. It is in the public interest that the principle of necessity applies to all personal information, including sensitive personal data.

3.8.3 Therefore, it is proposed that rule 5(2) be re-numbered to sub-rule (1) of rule 5 and re-drafted to read as follows:

“No body corporate shall collect any personal information or sensitive personal data of a person unless it clearly establishes that –

(a) the personal information or sensitive personal data is collected for a lawful purpose that is directly connected to a function or activity of the body corporate; and

(b) the collection of the personal information or sensitive personal data is necessary to achieve that lawful purpose.”

3.9.1 Rule 5(3) of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules attempts to create an informed consent regime for the collection of personal information as follows:

While collecting information directly from the person concerned, the body corporate or any person on its behalf snail take such steps as are, in the circumstances, reasonable to ensure that the person concerned is having the knowledge of —

(a)  the fact that the information is being collected;

(b)  the purpose for which the information is being collected;

(c)  the intended recipients of the information; and

(d)  the name and address of —

(i)   the agency that is collecting the information; and

(ii)  the agency that will retain the information.

3.9.2   Firstly, this sub-rule (3) betrays the carelessness of its drafters by bringing within its application any and all information collected by a body corporate from a person instead of only personal information or sensitive personal data. Secondly, this provision is crucial to establishing a regime of informed consent before personal information is given by a person to a body corporate. For consent to be informed, the person giving consent must be made aware of not only the collection of that personal information or sensitive personal data, but also the purpose for which it is being collected, the manner in which it will be used, the intended recipients to whom it will be sent or made accessible, the duration for which it will be stored, the conditions upon which it may be disclosed, the conditions upon which it may be destroyed as well as the identities of all persons who will collect, receive, possess, store, deal with or handle that personal information or sensitive personal data. Thirdly, the use of the phrase “take such steps as are, in the circumstances, reasonable” dilutes the purpose of this provision and compromises the establishment of an informed consent regime. Instead, the use of the term “reasonable efforts”, which has an understood meaning in law, will suffice to protect individuals while giving bodies corporate sufficient latitude to conduct their business.

3.9.3    Therefore, it is proposed that rule 5(3) be re-drafted to read as follows:

“A body corporate seeking to collect personal information or sensitive personal data of a person shall, prior to such collection, make reasonable efforts to inform that person of the following details in respect of his personal information or sensitive personal data –

(a)  the fact that it is being collected;

(b)  the purpose for which it is being collected;

(c)  the manner in which it will be used;

(d)  the intended recipients to whom it will be sent or made available;

(e)  the duration for which it will be stored;

(f)   the conditions upon which it may be disclosed;

(g)  the conditions upon which it may be destroyed; and

(h)  the identities of all persons and bodies corporate who will collect, receive, possess, store, deal with or handle it.”

3.10.1  Rule 5(4) of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules lays down temporal restrictions to the retention of personal information:

Body corporate or any person on its behalf holding sensitive personal data or information shall not retain that information for longer than is required for the purposes for which the information may lawfully be used or is otherwise required under any other law for the time being in force.

3.10.2  Since this sub-rule (4) only applies to sensitive personal data instead of all personal information, bodies corporate are permitted to hold personal information of persons that is not sensitive personal data for as long as they like even after the necessity that informed the collection of that personal information expires and the purpose for which it was collected ends. This is a dangerous provision that deprives the owners of personal information of the ability to control its possession to jeopardise their right to privacy. The Sensitive Personal Data Rules should prescribe a temporal limit to the storage of all personal information by bodies corporate.

3.10.3  Therefore, it is proposed that rule 5(4) be re-drafted to read as follows:

“No body corporate shall store, retain or hold personal information or sensitive personal data for a period longer than is required to achieve the purpose for which that personal information or sensitive personal data was collected.”

Rule 6 - Disclosure of Information

3.11.1  Rule 6(1) of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules, which deals with the crucial issue of disclosure of personal information, states:

Disclosure of sensitive personal data or information by body corporate to any third party shall require prior permission from the provider of such information, who has provided such information under lawful contract or otherwise, unless such disclosure has been agreed to in the contract between the body corporate and provider of information, or where the disclosure is necessary for compliance of a legal obligation:

Provided that the information shall be shared, without obtaining prior consent from provider of information, with Government agencies mandated under the law to obtain information including sensitive personal data or information for the purpose of verification of identity, or for prevention, detection, investigation including cyber incidents, prosecution, and punishment of offences. The Government agency shall send a request in writing to the body corporate possessing the sensitive personal data or information stating clearly the purpose of seeking such information. The Government agency shall also state that the information so obtained shall not be published or shared with any other person.

3.11.2  In addition to errors and discrepancies in drafting, this sub-rule contains wide and vague conditions of disclosure of sensitive personal data to gravely impair the privacy rights and personal liberties of persons to whom such sensitive personal data pertains. A summary of drafting errors and discrepancies follows: Firstly, this sub-rule only applies to sensitive personal data instead of all personal information. The protection of personal information that is not sensitive personal data is an essential element of the right to privacy; hence, prohibiting bodies corporate from disclosing personal information at will is an important public interest prerogative. Secondly, the use of the phrase “any third party” lends vagueness to this provision since the term “third party” has not been defined. Thirdly, the repeated use of the undefined phrase “provider of information” throughout these Rules and in this sub-rule is confusing since, as pointed out in paragraph 3.6.2 of this submission, it could mean either or both of the single individual who consents to the collection of his personal information or another entity that transfers personal information to the body corporate.

3.11.3  Further, the conditions upon which bodies corporate may disclose personal information and sensitive personal data without the consent of the person to whom it pertains are dangerously wide. Firstly, the disclosure of personal information and sensitive personal data when it is “necessary for compliance of a legal obligation” is an extremely low protection standard. The law must intelligently specify the exact conditions upon which disclosure sans consent is possible; since the protection of personal information is a public interest priority, the conditions upon which it may be disclosed must outweigh this priority to be significant and serious enough to imperil the nation or endanger public interest. The disclosure of personal information and sensitive personal data for mere compliance of a legal obligation, such as failure to pay an electricity bill, is farcical. Secondly, the proviso sets out the conditions upon which the state, through its law enforcement agencies, may access personal information and sensitive personal data without the consent of the person to whom it pertains. Empowering the police with access to personal information can serve a public good if, and only if, it results in the prevention or resolution of crime; if not, this provision will give the police carte blanche to misuse and abuse this privilege. Hence, personal information should only be disclosed for the prevention, investigation and prosecution of an existing criminal offence. Thirdly, the definition and use of the term “cyber incidents” is unnecessary because section 43 of the IT Act already lists all such incidents. In addition, when read with section 66 of the IT Act, there emerges a clear list of offences to empower the police to seek non-consensual disclosure of personal information to obviate the need for any further new terminology. In sum, with regard to the non-consensual disclosure of personal information for the purposes of law enforcement: a demonstrable need to access personal information to prevent, investigate or prosecute crime must exist; only that amount of personal information sufficient to satisfy the need must be disclosed; and, finally, no disclosure may be permitted without clearly laid down procedural safeguards that fulfil the requirements of a minimal due process regime.

3.11.4  Therefore, it is proposed that rule 6(1) be re-drafted to read as follows:

“No body corporate shall disclose any personal information or sensitive personal data to anyone whosoever without the prior express consent of the person to whom the personal information or sensitive personal data to be disclosed pertains.

Provided that if the personal information or sensitive personal data was collected pursuant to an agreement that expressly authorises the body corporate to disclose such personal information or sensitive personal data, and if the person to whom the personal information or sensitive personal data pertains was aware of this authorisation prior to such collection, the body corporate may disclose the personal information or sensitive personal data without obtaining the consent of the person to whom it pertains in the form and manner specified in such agreement.

Provided further that if a reasonable threat to national security, defence or public order exists, or if the disclosure of personal information or sensitive personal data is necessary to prevent, investigate or prosecute a criminal offence, the body corporate shall, upon receiving a written request from the police or other law enforcement authority containing the particulars and details of the personal information or sensitive personal data to be disclosed, disclose such personal information or sensitive personal data to such police or other law enforcement authority without the prior consent of the person to whom it pertains.”

3.12.1  Rule 6(2) of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules creates an additional disclosure mechanism:

Notwithstanding anything contain in sub-rule (1), any sensitive personal data on Information shall be disclosed to any third party by an order under the law for the time being in force.

3.12.2  This sub-rule is overbroad to enable anyone’s sensitive personal data to be disclosed to any other person without the application of any standards of necessity, proportionality or due process and without the person to whom the sensitive personal data pertains having any recourse or remedy. Such provisions are the hallmarks of authoritarian and police states and have no place in a liberal democracy. For instance, the invocation of this sub-rule will enable a police constable in Delhi to exercise unfettered power to access the biometric information or credit card details of a politician in Kerala since an order of a policeman constitutes “an order under the law”. Pursuant to our submission in paragraph 3.11.4, adequate measures exist to secure the disclosure of personal information or sensitive public data in the public interest. The balance of convenience between privacy and public order has already been struck. This sub-rule should be removed.

3.12.3 Therefore, it is proposed that rule 6(2) be deleted and the remaining sub-rules in rule 6 be accordingly renumbered.

3.13.1  Rule 6(4) of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules states:

The third party receiving the sensitive personal data or information from body corporate or any person on its behalf under sub-rule (1) shall not disclose it further.

3.13.2  Firstly, as mentioned elsewhere in this submission, the phrase “third party” has not been defined. This is a drafting discrepancy that must be rectified. Secondly, this sub-rule only encompasses sensitive personal data and not other personal information that is not sensitive personal data. Thirdly, it may be necessary, in the interests of business or otherwise, for personal information or sensitive personal data that has been lawfully disclosed to a third person to be disclosed further if the person to whom that personal information consents to it.

3.13.3  Therefore, it is proposed that rule 6(4) be re-drafted to read as follows:

“Personal information and sensitive personal data that has been lawfully disclosed by a body corporate to a person who is not the person to whom such personal information or sensitive personal data pertains in accordance with the provisions of these rules may be disclosed further upon obtaining the prior and express consent of the person to whom it pertains.”

Rule 7 - Transfer of Information

3.14.1  Rule 7 of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules sets out the conditions upon which bodies corporate may transfer personal information or sensitive personal data to other bodies corporate in pursuance of a business arrangement:

A body corporate or any person on its behalf may transfer sensitive personal data or information including any information, to any other body corporate or a person in India, or located in any other country, that ensures the same level of data protection that is adhered to by the body corporate as provided for under these Rules. The transfer may be allowed only if it is necessary for the performance of the lawful contract between the body corporate or any person on its behalf and provider of information or where such person has consented to data transfer.

3.14.2  This provision allows personal information and sensitive personal data to be transferred across international borders to other bodies corporate in pursuance of a business agreement. The transfer of such information is a common feature of international commerce in which Indian information technology companies participate with significant success. Within India too, personal information and sensitive personal data is routinely transferred between companies in furtherance of an outsourced business model. Besides affecting ease of business, the sub-rule also affects the ability of persons to control their personal information and sensitive personal data. However, the sub-rule has been poorly drafted: firstly, the simultaneous use of the phrases “provider of information” and “such person” is imprecise and misleading; secondly, the person to whom any personal information or sensitive personal data pertains must pre-consent to the transfer of such information.

3.14.3  Therefore, it is proposed that rule 7 be re-drafted to read as follows:

“A body corporate may transfer any personal information or sensitive personal data in its possession to another body corporate, whether located in India or otherwise, if the transfer is pursuant to an agreement that binds the other body corporate to same, similar or stronger measures of privacy, protection, storage, use and disclosure of personal information and sensitive personal data as are contained in these rules, and if the express and informed consent of the person to whom the personal information or sensitive personal data pertains is obtained prior to the transfer.”

Rule 8 - Reasonable Security Practices

3.15.1  Following rule 8(1) of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules that prescribes reasonable security practices and procedures necessary for protecting personal information and sensitive personal data, rule 8(2) asserts that the international standard ISO/IEC 27001 fulfils the protection standards required by rule 8(1):

The international Standard IS/ISO/IEC 27001 on "Information Technology - Security Techniques - Information Security Management System - Requirements" is one such standard referred to in sub-rule (1).

3.15.2  ISO/IEC 27001 is an information security management system standard that is prescribed by the International Organisation for Standardisation and the International Electrotechnical Commission. CIS raises no objection to the content or quality of the ISO/IEC 27001 standard. However, to achieve ISO/IEC 27001 compliance and certification, one must first purchase a copy of the standard. A copy of the ISO/IEC 27001 standard costs approximately Rs. _____/-. The cost of putting in place the protective measures required by the ISO/IEC 27001 standard are higher: these include the cost of literature and training, the cost of external assistance, the cost of technology, the cost of employees’ time and the cost of certification.

3.15.3  Therefore, to bring these standards within the reach of small and medium-sized Indian bodies corporate, an appropriate Indian authority, such as the Bureau of Indian Standards, should re-issue affordable standards that are equivalent to ISO/IEC 27001.

IV The Press Release of 24 August 2011

4.1  The shoddy drafting of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules resulted in national and international confusion about its interpretation. However, instead of promptly correcting the embarrassingly numerous errors in the Rules, the Department of Information Technology of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology chose to issue a press release on 24 August 2011 that was published on the website of the Press Information Bureau. The content of that press release is brought to the attention of the Committee of Subordinate Legislation as follows:

Clarification on Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011 Under Section 43A of the Information Technology ACT, 2000.

Press Note

The Department of Information Technology had notified Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011 under section 43A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 on 11.4.2011 vide notification no. G.S.R. 313(E).

These rules are regarding sensitive personal data or information and are applicable to the body corporate or any person located within India. Any such body corporate providing services relating to collection, storage, dealing or handling of sensitive personal data or information under contractual obligation with any legal entity located within or outside India is not subject to the requirement of Rules 5 & 6. Body corporate, providing services to the provider of information under a contractual obligation directly with them, as the case may be, however, is subject to Rules 5 & 6. Providers of information, as referred to in these Rules, are those natural persons who provide sensitive personal data or information to a body corporate. It is also clarified that privacy policy, as prescribed in Rule 4, relates to the body corporate and is not with respect to any particular obligation under any contract. Further, in Rule 5(1) consent includes consent given by any mode of electronic communication.

Ministry of Communications & Information Technology (Dept. of Information Technology)

Press Information Bureau, Government of India, Bhadra 2, 1933, August 24, 2011

SP/ska
(Release ID :74990)

4.2  It is apparent from a plain reading of the text that this press release seeks to re-interpret the application of rules 5 and 6 of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules insofar as they apply to Indian bodies corporate receiving personal information collected by another company outside India. Also, it seeks to define the term “providers of information” to address the confusion created by the repeated use this term in the Rules. Further, it re-interprets the scope and application of rule 4 relating to duty of bodies corporate to publish certain policies. Furthermore, it seeks to amend the provisions of rule 5(1) relating to manner and medium of obtaining consent prior to collecting personal information.

4.3  At the outset, it must be understood that a press release is not valid law. According to Article 13(3) of the Constitution of India,

...law includes any Ordinance, order, bye law, rule, regulation, notification, custom or usages having in the territory of India the force of law.

Law includes orders made in exercise of a statutory power as also orders and notifications made in exercise of a power conferred by statutory rules.

[See, Edward Mills AIR 1955 SC 25 at pr. 12, Babaji Kondaji Garad 1984 (1) SCR 767 at pp. 779-780 and Indramani Pyarelal Gupta 1963 (1) SCR 721 at pp. 73-744]

Sub-delegated orders, made in exercise of a power conferred by statutory rules, cannot modify the rules.

[See, Raj Narain Singh AIR 1954 SC 569 and Re Delhi Laws Act AIR 1951 SC 332]

Therefore, press releases, which are not made or issued in exercise of a delegated or sub-delegated power are not “law” and cannot modify statutory rules.

V Summary

5.1 CIS submits that the following provisions of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules be amended or annulled

  • Rule 2(1)(b);
  • Rule 2(1)(c);
  • Rule 2(1)(d);
  • Rule 2(1)(g);
  • Rule 3;
  • Rule 4(1);
  • Rule 5(1);
  • Rule 5(2);
  • Rule 5(3);
  • Rule 5(4);
  • Rule 6(1);
  • Rule 6(1) Proviso;
  • Rule 6(2);
  • Rule 6(4);
  • Rule 7; and
  • Rule 8.

5.2 CIS submits that the Committee on Subordinate Legislation should take a serious view of the press release issued by the Department of Information Technology of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology on 24 August 2011.

5.3 CIS submits that in exercise of the powers granted to the Committee on Subordinate Legislation under Rules 317 and 320 of the Lok Sabha Rules of Procedure, the provisions of the Sensitive Personal Data Rules listed in the preceding paragraph 5.1 should be annulled; and, the Committee may be pleased to consider and recommend as an alternative the amendments proposed by CIS in this submission.

5.4 CIS thanks the Committee on Subordinate Legislation for the opportunity to present this submission and reiterates its commitment to supporting the Committee with any clarification, question or other requirement it may have.


[1]. See generally, Kharak Singh AIR 1963 SC 1295, Gobind (1975) 2 SCC 148, R. Rajagopal (1994) 6 SCC 632, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (1997) 1 SCC 301 and Canara Bank (2005) 1 SCC 496.

[2]. See infra pr. 4.3.

[3]. See, for comparison, Directive 95/46/EC of 24 October 1995 of the European Parliament and Council, the Data Protection Act, 1998 of the United Kingdom and the Proposed EU Regulation on on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data (General Data Protection Regulation).

[4].See generally, Board of Trustees of Ayurvedic College AIR 1962 SC 458 and S. P. Mittal AIR 1983 SC 1.

 

[5]. See generally, W. O. Holdsworth AIR 1957 SC 887 and Duli Chand AIR 1984 Del 145.

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