Campaign India Team
Feb 20, 2024

EGI raises concerns about the Digital Personal Data Protection Act's impact on journalism

Urges the Centre to include journalistic exemptions in the DPDP Act to safeguard freedom of speech and journalists' rights to work freely

EGI raises concerns about the Digital Personal Data Protection Act's impact on journalism

The Editors Guild of India has submitted a detailed communication to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) expressing serious reservations about the potential repercussions of the recently enacted Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023 (DPDPA) on journalistic activities.

In the letter, the Guild points out several provisions of the Data Protection Act that could pose a challenge to investigative journalism and the safety of journalists as well as curtail freedom of the press.

In the seven-page document, the EGI spells out specifically its concern about the need for consent, under Section 7 of the DPDPA, to process any personal data in the course of their journalistic activities. The absence of any exemptions for journalistic activities could mean that journalists would invariably have to rely upon consent to process any personal data in the course of their journalistic activities, notes the guild.
 
The letter read, "The fundamental role of the press and its ability to ensure transparency and accountability would be severely undermined by the data principal's ability to simply refuse consent to the processing of their data."
 
The Guild urged the centre to ensure that processing for journalistic purposes be exempted from the application of the DPDPA. "Such an exemption is particularly justified given that the absence of such a carve-out will have a necessarily adverse impact on the right to freedom of speech and expression, and the right of journalists to carry on their occupation," stated the guild.
 
The letter stated, "The DPDPA requires all processing of personal data to proceed on the basis of either consent or certain legitimate uses (e.g., for employment purposes or in the case of a medical emergency) under Section 7 of the DPDPA, which is narrow and specific in nature. Processing personal data for journalistic activities will invariably fall outside these narrow buckets."
 
It noted that most forms of journalism, such as investigative journalism, general news reporting, opinion pieces, analyses, etc., are still largely dependent on private research and investigative study by journalists, which is remarkably absent in the current list of legitimate uses. Given this, journalists will invariably have to rely upon consent to process any personal data in the course of their journalistic activities.
 
The letter noted that mandating consent for processing such personal data would be unfavourable, as the data principal could simply refuse to consent forestalling all such publishing. The fundamental role of the press and its ability to ensure transparency and accountability would thus be severely undermined by the data principal's ability to simply refuse consent to the processing of their data. 
 
Citing provisions in other countries to protect similar journalistic exemptions, the letter notes, "Unfortunately, India will be the sole modern democracy without an exemption for journalistic activities, which could severely impair the fourth pillar of democracy."
 
It also goes on to point out that India is currently ranked 161 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index maintained by Reporters Without Borders below other Asian countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia, and risks falling further down in the ranking if the DPDPA is enacted in its present form.
 
Source:
Campaign India

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