Data Protection Bill Ready, Would Be Introduced In Monsoon Session: AG Tells SC In WhatsApp Case

During the course of the hearing in pleas challenging the latest privacy policy of WhatsApp, the Attorney General of India, Mr. R. Venkataramani today informed a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court that the new Data Protection Bill is ready and would be introduced in the Monsoon Session of the Parliament that is to commence in July 2023.

The Bench comprising of Justices KM Joseph, Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy, and CT Ravikumar took note of the submission of the Attorney General that the Bill that would address all the concerns raised in the present petitions will be tabled during the monsoon session. Moreover, it is pertinent to note that 2 judges of the existing Bench (Justice Joseph and Justice Rastogi) are to retire in June 2023. Considering the circumstance, the Bench directed the registry to place the matter before the Hon’ble CJI so that a Constitution Bench can be constituted afresh, preferably in the first week of August 2023.

The AG informed the Bench that “The Bill is ready. It just has to be introduced in Parliament. It will be introduced in the Monsoon session in July…I may be considered after that.”

Senior Advocate, Mr. Shyam Divan appearing on behalf of the petitioner opposed stating that the Bench ought not to link the court hearings to the legislative process, which is a complex process and can cause inordinate delay. He submitted that when the matter came up for hearing for the first time, the Bench apprised that the Bill would be introduced in the Winter Session of the Parliament, but that didn’t happen.

The Attorney General refuted Mr. Divan’s argument by submitting, “The consultation process is a continuous process so it went through a very qualified consultation process.”

Therefore, when the matter was listed in September 2022, the Solicitor General, Mr. Tushar Mehta, informed the Bench that the Data Protection Bill introduced in the Parliament that had been withdrawn and a comprehensive Bill was underway. In view of the same, he beseeched the Bench to hear the matter after the Bill had been put in place. Considering the Centre’s statement that a Bill relating to personal data protection is being prepared, the Bench adjourned the hearing to January 2023.

As the matter came up for hearing in January 2023, the Bench was informed that a Data Protection Bill is to be introduced before the Parliament in the 2nd half of the Budget Session, 2023. Senior Advocate, Mr. Kapil Sibal appearing on behalf of Meta-WhatsApp implored the Bench to take up the matter once the Bill is introduced. The Bench decided to adjourn the matter till 1st February 2023 and then take a call on whether the matter needs to be heard further or it needs to await the introduction of the Bill in the Parliament. In February 2023, the attorney general AG flagged the same concerns that the Solicitor General of India, Mr. Tushar Mehta, expressed on the previous occasion. He was afraid that the Court’s deliberations on the draft Bill, might orient the debate in the Parliament.

Therefore, after informing the Bench that the Bill subject to getting approval from the Cabinet is intended to be presented in the second half of the Budget Session, i.e., between 13th March 2023 and 6th April 2023, he sought the Court’s indulgence to postpone the hearing till then. Mr. Sibal supported the submissions made by the AG.

Thereafter, the matter was stood over until April 2023.

In the interim, WhatsApp was directed to widely publicise its stand that WhatsApp users in India don’t have to accept its 2021 privacy policy in order to use it, and WhatsApp’s functionality would remain unaffected till the Data Protection Bill comes into existence.

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About the Author: Meera Verma