GDPR has changed the landscape of Cyber Laws by redefining the priorities of Cyber Laws. So far the concern of the society was mostly on “Preventing Damage to a Citizen” through Cyber Crime laws. This was achieved by defining certain actions as “Contraventions” and/or “Offences” and imposing a “Civil Liability to pay compensation” or treat it as a “Criminal Offence” in which the perpetrator of the crime will “Pay penalty to the Government and face imprisonment”.
“Unauthorized Access” to data was therefore considered as a Cyber Crime and if the person who caused a wrongful loss through an act which contravened the law was asked to pay compensation for which the victim had to prove the extent of damage suffered. If the unauthorized access was intentional and had a “Malicious intent”, it was considered as a “Crime punishable with imprisonment and fine”. Criminal action was a state action and intended to be a deterrent. Civil action was meant to recover the loss suffered by the victim.
When unauthorized access was accompanied by “Data Theft”, “Data Deletion”, “Data Modification”, “Impersonation”, “Cheating”, “Profit making” etc, the crime was considered a higher order crime and the punishment could be harsher. But the civil damages always were based on the actual loss suffered by the victim which he was supposed to prove during the trial.
The Cyber Crime laws focused on providing deterrent punishments that were commensurate with the gravity of the crime and easy grievance redressal procedures through fast court systems, simplified procedures etc.
India provided such measures through ITA 2000 in which “Adjudication” was provided as a fast Court system to compensate the victims of cyber crimes. ITA 2000 was a representative of the first generation of Cyber Crime laws where the target was to provide protection to a victim of Cyber Crime.
Out of necessity, the first generation Cyber Crime laws did address the responsibilities of an “Intermediary” and need for the intermediary to take suitable “Due Diligence” steps to make it harder for criminals to benefit and if they do, provide suitable evidence to the law enforcement to bring the culprits to book. Section 85 and Section 79 in ITA 2000 were meant for this purpose.
In the second generation of Cyber Crime laws represented by ITA 2008 (Amended version of ITA 2000) apart from defining more Cyber Crimes, were fundamentally different from ITA 2000 since there was a greater emphasis on the role of “Information/Cyber Security”. For example, ITA 2008 introduced data protection clauses such as Sections 43A and 72A providing civil and criminal penalties if “Personal/Sensitive personal data” is not protected adequately by a data processor, which term included the Data Controller or Data Consumer or a Data Collecting agent. There were also Data Retention provisions under Section 67C, Regulatory powers to different authorities under Sections 69, 69A ,69B and 70B which represented the requirements of national security and law enforcement requirements.
ITA 2008 was stringent enough in terms of “Non Compliance” but the penalties were not in the form of huge financial penalties that the regulator would collect but in the form of huge imprisonment terms that the act provided for.
GDPR and UK DPA 2018 represent the third generation of Cyber Laws where more than the crime itself, prevention is considered as a greater responsibility and intermediaries will be subject to penalties that could be crippling.
GDPR raises a concern about the power of a “Supervisory Authority” to pursue penalties arising out of non compliance to the extent of 4% of Global turnover of an undertaking which has no relation to the actual damage that the data subjects might have suffered due to the non compliance.
ITA 2008 on the other hand has upto 7 years punishments in the case of Sections 69 and 69A, 3 years under Section 69B and 1 year under 70B. The penalties were in the range of upto Rs 1 lakh or left unstated.
Though the criminal punishments under ITA 2008 are huge, the Courts would evaluate the crime and arrive at the actual punishments both in terms of the imprisonment and the fine. Indian Courts provide enough opportunity for the accused to seek justice based on the actual facts of a case.
However, GDPR has now placed a power to impose a billion dollar fine on an executive and even in cases in which the non compliance can be technical and may not result in significant damage to the citizens whose privacy right is what the act tries to protect.
It appears as if the “Non Compliance” of a regulatory provision is a greater offence than an actual Cyber Crime in which some body is cheated of a million dollar.
This is a wrong prioritization in the justice system where the “Failure to implement Crime prevention” is considered a bigger crime than what the “Criminal” has committed.
An example is to impose an imprisonment of life term to a Security guard who forgot to lock the gates of the godown from which the thief stole some valuables while the thief himself is punishable for an imprisonment of two or three years.
EU authorities may justify their action by stating that the penalty provision in EU is just an enabling provision and would not be imposed in a manner that is unfair.
But there was no need to place such a stringent provision without any checks and balance?. It would have been better to leave the larger amount of penalty to the Courts instead of the executive. GDPR has failed in this regard to have a fair legislation.
We may recall that ITA 2008 has placed a Rs 5 crore cap on the power of the Adjudicator and left the higher penalties to the discretion of the Courts. But EU did not provide for such checks and balances before indicating a threatening level of penalties.
It appears that the Regulators have started considering the penalty provisions as an opportunity for “Profiteering” rather than as a deterrent.
This could well be the tendency of the new generation of Privacy Protection Laws which are actually one part of Cyber Crime laws applicable only to the mis-use of one type of data called “Personal data”. Every data theft is also a cyber crime and there is already a legal penalty for the same. The administrative fines are just one of the penalties that may be imposed on an intermediary in respect of a Cyber Crime and should not ideally be more damaging than the punishments meant for the cyber crimes.
Let’s forget the European Laws since EU is unmindful of the damage they are doing to their own business fabric through such crazy penalties. India is now considering its own Data Protection Law which Justice Srikrishna is in charge of drafting.
We need to watch and see whether Justice Srikrishna Committee would be falling into the trap set by GDPR and the UK DPA 2018 and make data protection legislation over power the Cyber crime laws or keep it as a subordinate law to the Cyber Crime law as it should normally be.
Many suggestions have been made to the Committee in this regard and we need to watch the developments so that India can show to the world of how to frame data protection laws which are fair to all stake holders.
India should also remember that GDPR is a terrorist friendly and Criminal friendly regulation and India cannot afford to toe its line. Hence Right of Erasure must be avoided and Right to restriction and correction should be moderated with appropriate data retention protections. These are required in the interest of national security which GDPR has ignored but we cannot.