The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023, recently passed in India, has raised concerns about its potential to undermine journalism. Experts warn that the Bill could force journalists to reveal their sources and allow the government to censor news stories. Additionally, the legislation could hinder access to government records via the Right to Information Act.
Clause 36 of the Bill allows the Union government to request information from any “data fiduciary”, which could include news organizations or journalists. This could expose sensitive data, journalistic sources, and whistleblowers. The Bill also empowers the government to block content from journalists or news organizations penalized for data fiduciary violations, amplifying censorship concerns.
The Bill further weakens the Right to Information Act, as personal information can now be denied under the Act. This move is seen as increasing government opaqueness at a time when global trends push for more open governance using technology.
Previous versions of the data protection bills exempted journalistic work from certain obligations, aligning with global standards like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. However, this exemption was removed in the 2022 version and retained in the recently passed Bill, raising concerns about the exposure level of media organizations to the legislation.