Foreign-headquartered firms like Facebook and Twitter have argued against the data localisation principles outlined in India’s draft Data Protection Bill, 2019.
- In December 2019, the Parliament had given the nod to sending India’s first-ever Personal Data Protection Bill to the committee for review
- Foreign tech platforms like Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Twitter have taken exception to the provisions in the Bill that refer to data localisation
- Facebook, Google, Twitter and other foreign-headquartered tech giants have argued that the data localisation principles outlined in the Bill will lead to a ‘splintering’ of the Internet
On Friday, a 30-member joint committee led by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi issued a summons to Facebook present ‘oral evidence’ on the issues of data protection and privacy. ‘Oral evidence by the representatives of Facebook India Online Services Pvt Ltd on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019,’ read the Friday meeting agenda.
According to reports, the summons is strictly related to the issue of Indian citizens’ personal data protection. Twitter, PayTM, Amazon and Google have also been directed to appear at the committee’s next meeting. Amazon, however, has declined the request saying it had no representative qualified to sit in.
Differences over data localisation
In December 2019, the Parliament had given the nod to sending India’s first-ever Personal Data Protection Bill to the committee for review. The privacy bill is intended to confer protection to citizens’ rights through the regulation of collection, movement and processing of data that is personal in nature, or which can be used to identify individuals.
However, foreign tech platforms like Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Twitter have taken exception to the provisions in the Bill that refer to data localisation. Data localisation refers to a concept whereby a country’s user’s data is required to be stored solely. The Bill distinguishes between non-sensitive and sensitive data, with the latter required to be stored on servers located in the country in which it was gathered.
Officials have contended that data localisation will be critical in aiding the efforts of law enforcement agencies in conducting investigations. As of now, data-sharing across countries is governed by mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATs) which many have, argued, involves a painstaking process.
Facebook, Google, Twitter and other foreign-headquartered tech giants have argued that the data localisation principles outlined in the Bill will lead to a ‘splintering’ of the Internet, cautioning that such protectionist policies may lead to other countries enacting similar legislation.
They have stated that this could prove detrimental to national growth, contending that a globalised internet marketplace drives down speeds and costs thereby increasing affordability. They have also noted that distinguishing between sensitive and non-sensitive user information may prove to be quite cumbersome.
In 2019, a group of industry bodies, led by the United States-India Business Council, had inked a letter to IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad objecting to the data protection measures the government was seeking to implement. On June 5, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) had written to the Reserve Bank of India confirming that WhatsApp Payments platforms were in full compliance with the three data-localisation norms relating to payments services. WhatsApp had said the same to the Supreme Court in May.
WhatsApp has been looking to launch its own UPI-powered digital payments platform in India for the last two years but had become mired in a regulatory swamp. With over 400 WhatsApp users, India was set to become the first country in which the payments platform would be rolled out.