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Opinion
Andy Mukherjee

Is India at Risk of Chinese-style Surveillance Capitalism?

The government has abandoned a personal data protection bill and there are concerns it may introduce more authoritarian rules on privacy.

More watching over your shoulder.

More watching over your shoulder.

Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

After five years of negotiations involving the government, tech companies and civil society activists, the world’s largest democracy is sending its debate on privacy back to the drawing board. The Indian government has junked the personal data protection bill, and decided to replace it with “a comprehensive legal framework.” If the current anarchy wasn’t bad enough, nobody knows what the revamped regime will contain — whether it it will put individuals first, like in Europe, or promote vested commercial and party-state interests, like in China. 

Back in 2017, India’s liberals were hopeful. In July that year, New Delhi set up a panel under retired Justice B.N. Srikrishna to frame data protection norms. The very next month, the country’s Supreme Court held privacy to be a part of a constitutionally guaranteed right to life and liberty. But the optimism didn’t take long to fade. The law introduced in parliament in December 2019 gave the government unfettered access to personal data in the name of sovereignty and public order — a move that will “turn India into an Orwellian State,” Srikrishna cautioned.