The National Privacy Roundtable Meetings

Posted by Bhairav Acharya at Sep 19, 2013 09:25 AM |
The Centre for Internet & Society ("CIS"), the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry ("FICCI"), the Data Security Council of India ("DSCI") and Privacy International are, in partnership, conducting a series of national privacy roundtable meetings across India from April to October 2013. The roundtable meetings are designed to discuss possible frameworks to privacy in India.

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

Background: The Roundtable Meetings and Organisers

CIS is a Bangalore-based non-profit think-tank and research organisation with interests in, amongst other fields, the law, policy and practice of free speech and privacy in India. FICCI is a non-governmental, non-profit association of approximately 250,000 Indian bodies corporate. It is the oldest and largest organisation of businesses in India and represents a national corporate consensus on policy issues. DSCI is an initiative of the National Association of Software and Service Companies, a non-profit trade association of Indian information technology ("IT") and business process outsourcing ("BPO") concerns, which promotes data protection in India. Privacy International is a London-based non-profit organisation that defends and promotes the right to privacy across the world.

Privacy in the Common Law and in India

Because privacy is a multi-faceted concept, it has rarely been singly regulated. A taxonomy of privacy yields many types of individual and social activity to be differently regulated based on the degree of harm that may be caused by intrusions into these activities.[1]

The nature of the activity is significant; activities that are implicated by the state are attended by public law concerns and those conducted by private persons inter se demand market-based regulation. Hence, because the principles underlying warranted police surveillance differ from those prompting consensual collections of personal data for commercial purposes, legal governance of these different fields must proceed differently. For this and other reasons, the legal conception of privacy — as opposed to its cultural construction – has historically been diverse and disparate.

Traditionally, specific legislations have dealt separately with individual aspects of privacy in tort law, constitutional law, criminal procedure and commercial data protection, amongst other fields. The common law does not admit an enforceable right to privacy.[2] In the absence of a specific tort of privacy, various equitable remedies, administrative laws and lesser torts have been relied upon to protect the privacy of claimants.[3]

The question of whether privacy is a constitutional right has been the subject of limited judicial debate in India. The early cases of Kharak Singh (1964)[4] and Gobind (1975)[5] considered privacy in terms of physical surveillance by the police in and around the homes of suspects and, in the latter case, the Supreme Court of India found that some of the Fundamental Rights “could be described as contributing to the right to privacy” which was nevertheless subject to a compelling public interest. This inference held the field until 1994 when, in the Rajagopal case (1994),[6] the Supreme Court, for the first time, directly located privacy within the ambit of the right to personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India. However, Rajagopal dealt specifically with a book, it did not consider the privacy of communications. In 1997, the Supreme Court considered the question of wiretaps in the PUCL case (1996)[7] and, while finding that wiretaps invaded the privacy of communications, it continued to permit them subject to some procedural safeguards.[8] A more robust statement of the right to privacy was made recently by the Delhi High Court in the Naz Foundation case (2011)[9] that de-criminalised consensual homosexual acts; however, this judgment is now in appeal.

Attempts to Create a Statutory Regime

The silence of the common law leaves the field of privacy in India open to occupation by statute. With the recent and rapid growth of the Indian IT and BPO industry, concerns regarding the protection of personal data to secure privacy have arisen. In May 2010, the European Union ("EU") commissioned an assessment of the adequacy of Indian data protection laws to evaluate the continued flow of personal data of European data subjects into India for processing. That assessment made adverse findings on the adequacy and preparedness of Indian data protection laws to safeguard personal data.[10]

Conducted amidst negotiations for a free trade agreement between India and the EU, the failed assessment potentially impeded the growth of India’s outsourcing industry that is heavily reliant on European and North American business.

Consequently, the Department of Electronics and Information Technology of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Government of India, issued subordinate legislation under the rule-making power of the Information Technology Act, 2000 ("IT Act"), to give effect to section 43A of that statute. These rules – the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011 ("Personal Data Rules")[11] — were subsequently reviewed by the Committee on Subordinate Legislation of the 15th Lok Sabha.[12] The Committee found that the Personal Data Rules contained clauses that were ambiguous, invasive of privacy and potentially illegal.[13]

In 2011, a draft privacy legislation called the ‘Right to Privacy Bill, 2011’, which was drafted within the Department of Personnel and Training ("DoPT") of the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Government of India,  was made available on the internet along with several file notings ("First DoPT Bill"). The First DoPT Bill contained provisions for the regulation of personal data, interception of communications, visual surveillance and direct marketing. The First DoPT Bill was referred to a Committee of Secretaries chaired by the Cabinet Secretary which, on 27 May 2011, recommended several changes including re-drafts of the chapters relating to interception of communications and surveillance.

Aware of the need for personal data protection laws to enable economic growth, the Planning Commission constituted a Group of Experts under the chairmanship of Justice Ajit P. Shah, a retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court who delivered the judgment in the Naz Foundation case, to study foreign privacy laws, analyse existing Indian legal provisions and make specific proposals for incorporation into future Indian law. The Justice Shah Group of Experts submitted its Report to the Planning Commission on 16 October 2012 wherein it proposed the adoption of nine National Privacy Principles.[14] These are the principles of notice, choice and consent, collection limitation, purpose limitation, disclosure of information, security, openness, and accountability. The Report recommended the application of these principles in laws relating to interception of communications, video and audio recordings, use of personal identifiers, bodily and genetic material, and personal data.

Criminal Procedure and Special Laws Relating to Privacy

While the Kharak Singh and Gobind cases first brought the questions of permissibility and limits of police surveillance to the Supreme Court, the power to collect information and personal data of a person is firmly embedded in Indian criminal law and procedure. Surveillance is an essential condition of the nation-state; the inherent logic of its foundation requires the nation-state to perpetuate itself by interdicting threats to its peaceful existence. Surveillance is a method by which the nation-state’s agencies interdict those threats. The challenge for democratic countries such as India is to find the optimal balance between police powers of surveillance and the essential freedoms of its citizens, including the right to privacy.

The regime governing the interception of communications is contained in section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 ("Telegraph Act") read with rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951 ("Telegraph Rules"). The Telegraph Rules were amended in 2007[15] to give effect to, amongst other things, the procedural safeguards laid down by the Supreme Court in the PUCL case. However, India’s federal scheme permits States to also legislate in this regard. Hence, in addition to the general law on interceptions contained in the Telegraph Act and Telegraph Rules, some States have also empowered their police forces with interception functions in certain cases.[16] Ironically, even though some of these State laws invoke heightened public order concerns to justify their invasions of privacy, they establish procedural safeguards based on the principle of probable cause that surpasses the Telegraph Rules.

In addition, further subordinate legislation issued to fulfil the provisions of sections 69(2) and 69B(3) of the IT Act permit the interception and monitoring of electronic communications — including emails — to collect traffic data and to intercept, monitor, and decrypt electronic communications.[17]

The proposed Privacy (Protection) Bill, 2013 and Roundtable Meetings

In this background, the proposed Privacy (Protection) Bill, 2013 seeks to protect privacy by regulating (i) the manner in which personal data is collected, processed, stored, transferred and destroyed — both by private persons for commercial gain and by the state for the purpose of governance; (ii) the conditions upon which, and procedure for, interceptions of communications — both voice and data communications, including both data-in-motion and data-at-rest — may be conducted and the authorities permitted to exercise those powers; and, (iii) the manner in which forms of surveillance not amounting to interceptions of communications — including the collection of intelligence from humans, signals, geospatial sources, measurements and signatures, and financial sources — may be conducted.

Previous roundtable meetings to seek comments and opinion on the proposed Privacy (Protection) Bill, 2013 took place at:

The roundtable meetings were multi-stakeholder events with participation from industry representatives, lawyers, journalists, civil society organizations and Government representatives. On an average, 75 per cent of the participants represented industry concerns, 15 per cent represented civil society and 10 per cent represented regulatory authorities. The model followed at the roundtable meetings allowed for equal participation from all participants.

[1]. See generally, Dan Solove, “A Taxonomy of Privacy” University of Pennsylvania Law Review (Vol. 154, No. 3, January 2006).

[2]. Wainwright v. Home Office [2003] UKHL 53.

[3]. See A v. B plc [2003] QB 195; Wainwright v. Home Office [2001] EWCA Civ 2081; R (Ellis) v. Chief Constable of Essex Police [2003] EWHC 1321 (Admin).

[4]. Kharak Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1963 SC 1295.

[5]. Gobind v. State of Madhya Pradesh AIR 1975 SC 1378.

[6]. R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu AIR 1995 SC 264.

[7]. People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India (1997) 1 SCC 30.

[8]. A Division Bench of the Supreme Court of India comprising Kuldip Singh and Saghir Ahmad, JJ, found that the procedure set out in section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and rule 419 of the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951 did not meet the “just, fair and reasonable” test laid down in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India AIR 1978 SC 597 requisite for the deprivation of the right to personal liberty, from whence the Division Bench found a right to privacy emanated, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Therefore, Kuldip Singh, J, imposed nine additional procedural safeguards that are listed in paragraph 35 of the judgment.

[9]. Naz Foundation v. Government of NCT Delhi (2009) 160 DLT 277.

[10]. The 2010 data adequacy assessment of Indian data protection laws was conducted by Professor Graham Greenleaf. His account of the process and his summary of Indian law can found at Graham Greenleaf, "Promises and Illusions of Data Protection in Indian Law" International Data Privacy Law (47-69, Vol. 1, No. 1, March 2011).

[11]. The Rules were brought into effect vide Notification GSR 313(E) on 11 April 2011. CIS submitted comments on the Rules that can be found here –

[12]. The Committee on Subordinate Legislation, a parliamentary ‘watchdog’ committee, is mandated by rules 317-322 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha (14th edn., New Delhi: Lok Sabha Secretariat, 2010) to examine the validity of subordinate legislation.

[13]. See the 31st Report of the Committee on Subordinate Legislation that was presented on 21 March 2013.

[14]. See paragraphs 7.14-7.17 on pages 69-72 of the Report of the Group of Experts on Privacy, 16 October 2012, Planning Commission, Government of India.

[15]. See, the Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2007, which were brought into effect vide Notification GSR 193(E) of the Department of Telecommunications of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Government of India, dated 1 March 2007.

[16]. See, inter alia, section 14 of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999; section 14 of the Andhra Pradesh Control of Organised Crime Act, 2001; and, section 14 of the Karnataka Control of Organised Crime Act, 2000.

[17]. See, the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Monitoring and Collecting Traffic Data and Information) Rules, 2009 vide GSR 782 (E) dated 27 October 2009; and, Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009 vide GSR 780 (E) dated 27 October 2009.